The Surprising History of Upside-Down Christmas Trees

updated Nov 30, 2020
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Christmas tree - upside down

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, it’s time to start preparing for the next holiday. For some people, that means sourcing a Christmas tree. The process of picking out and bringing home a lush, green evergreen tree feels nostalgic and joyful, but let’s be honest: As with any other plant, there’s a lot of work involved in caring for a live tree. 

Now that I have kids of my own (and a dog who’s been known to chew), I’m entertaining the idea of buying a pre-lit, artificial tree that I can set up and forget about. So far, I’m leaning toward an imitation tree made to look like a Balsam Spruce—though my love for tradition is followed closely by my love for all the sparkly, silver options I’ve found on Pinterest. But in my search for tree inspo, I fell down a rabbit hole of what appears to be an eccentric alternative: the upside-down Christmas tree. 

Yes, you read that right. Rather than displaying their trees standing up, some people have inverted trees that hang from the ceiling. While hanging your tree upside down feels like a modern take on a holiday tradition, it’s not a new trend at all. Here’s everything you need to know about the centuries-old tradition, and how to replicate it (safely!) should you be so inspired.

The history of upside-down Christmas trees

The Christmas tree, while used to celebrate a religious holiday, has pagan roots: Early Romans used evergreen trees to decorate their temples at the festival of Saturnalia (and they weren’t the only ones!). Later, pagans in Europe used evergreen fir branches to decorate their homes for winter solstice.

As Country Living reported, Boniface, a seventh-century monk, co-opted the tradition, using the triangular shape of a fir to illustrate the Trinity to pagans in Germany. Later on, in the 12th century, it’s said that Eastern European Christians hung their trees from the ceiling at Christmas to symbolize the shape of the crucifix.

According to The Spruce, the inverted-tree tradition spread in a Polish tradition called podlaznicez, where people bedecked upside-down spruces hanging from common room ceilings with DIY ornaments, often made from fruit, nuts, straw, ribbon, and painted pine cones.

There may also be a more practical reason for the spread of the trend: According to Bernd Brunner, author of the book “Inventing Christmas,” poorer families often hung their trees upside down from rafters because they simply had no room to stand them upright in smaller common areas.

The upside-down Christmas tree today

Upside-down Christmas trees are still common among some Eastern European households. Over the centuries, the tradition made it to American homes, too. And while some people stick to religious or cultural traditions,  others have begun hanging trees upside down to turn their usual holiday decor, well, upside-down. 

Although this twist on a tree might add some flair to your space, the inverted tree experience comes with a few caveats. For one thing, gravity might create a shower of pine needles below your tree as the plant begins to shed. If you opt to hang an artificial tree upside down, you won’t get the same benefits as a genuine fir or spruce tree. 

 “Hanging a faux tree upside down may bring joy in other ways, but it probably won’t have the same healing effects of natural foliage since it lacks the same tactile quality and comforting scent,” says California-based interior designer Sarah Barnard, who is a fan of biophilic design, or the practice of incorporating nature into your space to uplift mood. There’s also the matter of losing out on the convenience that comes with a standard artificial tree, which in my opinion is the primary appeal—just take it out of the box and enjoy.

If you are considering an inverted tree, prepare for a more complicated process than putting your tree in its stand. “Keep in mind that installing one is not an entirely easy feat,” says Barnard. “I recommend consulting a licensed professional contractor with insurance to hang your tree from the ceiling.”

How to DIY an inverted Christmas tree:

If you have the right tools and some DIY skills, you might be able to manage hanging a tree from your ceiling—whether it’s real or artificial—without enlisting professional help. According to Chris Remaley, founder of Tools Patrol, all you’ll need is a small wooden board, a power drill, a couple of hooks and lots of strong wire. 

Here’s how Remaley recommends hanging the tree—there are two approaches, depending on whether your ceiling is already outfitted with a sturdy base (like if you have a chandelier you can easily remove).

  1. Wire up the trunk of the tree: Loop your wire around the branches around the trunk. Once you have the wire in place, make sure it extends out of the opposite side of the tree, since you’re hanging it upside down. You should have two wire ends, which can be twisted into one single piece of wire. 
  2. If you already have a place to hang it: If you have a chandelier or light fixture that can be removed and has a solid base where you can attach the wire, perfect. All you need to do is loop the wire in through the ring and make sure it’s attached sturdily. 
  1. How to DIY a wood board: If you don’t have a place to hang it, then you’ll need to use a small wooden board and drill some hooks into it. Once you have them set up, find a corner in your living room where you want to hang the tree, and drill the wooden board directly onto the ceiling. Then, wrap the wires around the hooks and you’ve turned your celebrations upside down.