Eastern European Upside-Down Christmas Trees

Upside-Down Christmas Trees Started as a Religious Symbol

Upside-Down Christmas Tree
Upside-Down Christmas Tree. © adamsphilipid on flickr

If you've seen upside-down Christmas trees for sale in stores or through online vendors and thought they were modern, space-saving versions of traditional Christmas trees, think again. The tradition of hanging a Christmas tree upside down from the ceiling is an old one in Central and Eastern Europe. 

The first records of a tree being decorated date to the 1500s at Riga, Latvia. The early trees were a symbol of the Paradise Tree in the Garden of Eden and were decorated with food and flowers to denote abundance.

Upside-down Christmas trees are common among many Slavic groups—Carpatho-Rusyns, Poles, Slovaks, and Ukrainians.

Polish Upside-Down Christmas Tree Decorating

In days gone by, and to some extent today, Poles in southern Poland—Silesia, Podhale, Sącz region and Kraków—hung a spruce tree upside down from the ceiling in a central position of the home and decorated doorways and walls with separate boughs of the same tree.

These were variously called sad, podłaz or podłazniczek (pawd-wahz-NEE-chek). They were decorated with fruit, nuts, sweets wrapped in shiny paper, straw, ribbons, gold-painted pine cones, opłatki and decorations made of straw or colorful paper. They were often hung above the wigilia dinner table but not until Christmas Eve.

In the Kraków region, the tree or choinka (ho-EEN-kah) was decorated with apples, nuts, pears, and gingerbread. Not until the day after Christmas could these treats be eaten by children and carolers.

Setting Up an Upside-Down Tree

Upside-down Christmas trees can be hung from a sturdy bracket on the ceiling or mounted tip-down on the wall.

An upside-down tree offers a few benefits not available with its right-side up cousin. If you have small children, you can keep most of the ornaments away from their little hands.

 Pets aren't able to race around and knock decorations off the tree, and you'll be able to pile many more packages under the tree.

Present-Day Polish Christmas Trees

As Eastern Europe becomes increasingly Westernized, the custom of hanging Christmas trees upside down has given way to more traditional presentations. Even the brightly colored paper ornaments once gracing the boughs have given way to bedazzled globes and LED lights.

How It All Began

Legend has it that England's St. Boniface was furious when he saw pagans revering an oak tree in 7th-century Germany where he was teaching. He cut it down, but a fir tree sprang up on the same spot. Boniface used the triangular shape of this fir tree as a tool to describe the Holy Trinity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

The pagans who had been converted to Christianity began to revere the fir tree as God's Trinity Tree. By the 12th century, it was being hung upside down from ceilings at Christmastime in Central and Eastern Europe as a symbol of Christianity and God the Son becoming a man because it resembled the shape of Christ being crucified.