Inside the Upside Down: The Murky Origins of a Puzzling Christmas Tree Trend

Photo courtesy of Claridge's
Photo courtesy of Claridge's

In recent years, turning Christmas trees upside down—and occasionally hanging them from the ceiling—has become a bona fide trend. In 2016, London's Tate Britain museum hung a Christmas tree with gold leaf-covered roots upside down from the ceiling. Karl Lagerfeld recently designed one for London's legendary Claridge's hotel (the designer calls Christmas trees "the strongest 'souvenir' of my happy childhood"). In 2017, Target sold an upside down tree for nearly $1000. Now, pop singer Ariana Grande has mounted her tree on her ceiling, top towards the floor.

An inverted tree can create a gorgeous, memorable display—but the trend is also controversial (and, for some, just plain confusing). Critics argue that the upside down tree is a corruption of the traditional, time-honored method of tree display—that is, trunk toward the ground. Proponents counter that it’s an ancient practice itself—one that was an integral part of early medieval Christmases—and that in the 12th century, it was a tradition in Eastern Europe. The tree, they say, was positioned upside down to create a representation of the Trinity and mimic the shape of a crucifix.

But just how far back does this topsy-turvy practice really go? The fact is, there simply isn’t that much recorded information about early Christmas trees, upside down or otherwise. Which makes the inverted tree mystery as tangled as a string of Christmas lights.

Origins Of A Myth

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According to myth, the first decorated tree popped up in Latvia in the 1500s (right side up). But as with much of the early history of Christmas trees, even that’s debated—and it’s possible that the Latvia story is a 19th century misinterpretation.

Beyond that, many of the early references to Christmas trees are scattered; most seem to be laws that made the trees illegal (to curb illicit logging) and to regulate which trees could be cut down. A 1561 law in Alsace, which is today part of France, limited a family to “one pine in the length of eight shoes.” There’s another reference that dates back to 1570 in a guild chronicle from Bremen; the guild allowed children to shake a tree in order to dislodge treats like apples and nuts that had been placed in it.

Around the internet, a popular tale traces the origin of the Christmas tree to St. Boniface in the 8th century. As the tale goes, Boniface supposedly saw pagans worshipping an oak tree. To stop them, he cut the tree down, and a fir grew in its place. Boniface used the shape of the tree—a triangle—to represent the Trinity. According to some sources, Boniface hung the tree upside down.

Some people use the story to argue that the Christmas tree is much older than the 16th century. But according to the 8th century bishop Willibald, whose tome The Life of Saint Boniface is the main source on the Saint’s life, this tale is mostly a myth. Written just a few years after Boniface’s death, The Life of Saint Boniface discusses the oak but never the fir, saying that when Boniface cut the oak down, it “burst asunder into four parts, each part having a trunk of equal length. At the sight of this extraordinary spectacle the heathens who had been cursing ceased to revile and began, on the contrary, to believe and bless the Lord.” Boniface then built an oratory from the timber. There's no mention of a fir tree, either upside down or right-side up.

Boniface isn't the only theory for the origin of upside down Christmas trees: Another says that an inverted tree is a Central and Eastern European tradition dating back to the 12th century. But according to the Polish Art Center, before Christmas trees became popular in Poland in the 1900s, it wasn't an entire tree but the tip of a fir tree or a branch that was hung from the rafters pointing down, usually toward the dinner table.

There is some historical precedent for hanging entire trees from the ceiling, however. In his book Inventing the Christmas Tree, Bernd Brunner includes an illustration of a hanging tree from the 19th century. But it’s hanging with the trunk facing the ground, not upside down with the tip facing the floor. “In the small common rooms of the lower classes," Brenner explains, "there was simply no space for [a tree on the ground].”

Hanging trees may have emerged because it was a convenient way to have a small Christmas tree without it being in the way, with the added bonus that it kept any treats that were on the tree away from children. Brunner also mentions that trees were occasionally hung upside down to protect the household, but that practice doesn't seem to have been widespread.

So what did hanging trees in? Brunner theorizes that it was partly due to rafters giving way to the rise of plastered ceilings. "The most they could bear was perhaps an Advent wreath or a wooden frame with candles," he writes.

Back to the Upside Down

Photo courtesy of Claridge's

Recently, however, hanging trees have made a comeback. The trend seems to have started in retail stores, and the goal is the same as it was in the 19th century: to free up space. "By having a tree upside down, you're taking a very small footprint on the floor, and you're placing all the ornaments at eye level," Dan Loughman, vice president of product development at Roman Incorporated, told NPR in 2005. "And then the retailers can move their store products around the bottom of the tree or on shelves, you know, just behind it."

That year, store owners reported bewildered responses to the inverted trees, but the trend hung on, and in 2017, it seems to be gaining ground beyond the shopping mall. As Loughman said in 2005, "I think consumers go into retail stores to buy ornaments, and they buy their trim and—to get a certain look. Whatever they see in the store they want to replicate at home."

If you feel inspired to spice up your tree trimming this year, there are many options out there, from Amazon to Home Depot to Walmart. Or you can go the traditional Polish route and cut off the tip of a fir tree off and hang that from the ceiling.

A version of this story ran in 2017.

Kodak’s New Cameras Don't Just Take Photos—They Also Print Them

Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Kodak

Snapping a photo and immediately sharing it on social media is definitely convenient, but there’s still something so satisfying about having the printed photo—like you’re actually holding the memory in your hands. Kodak’s new STEP cameras now offer the best of both worlds.

As its name implies, the Kodak STEP Instant Print Digital Camera, available for $70 on Amazon, lets you take a picture and print it out on that very same device. Not only do you get to skip the irksome process of uploading photos to your computer and printing them on your bulky, non-portable printer (or worse yet, having to wait for your local pharmacy to print them for you), but you never need to bother with ink cartridges or toner, either. The Kodak STEP comes with special 2-inch-by-3-inch printing paper inlaid with color crystals that bring your image to life. There’s also an adhesive layer on the back, so you can easily stick your photos to laptop covers, scrapbooks, or whatever else could use a little adornment.

There's a 10-second self-timer, so you don't have to ask strangers to take your group photos.Kodak

For those of you who want to give your photos some added flair, you might like the Kodak STEP Touch, available for $130 from Amazon. It’s similar to the regular Kodak STEP, but the LCD touch screen allows you to edit your photos before you print them; you can also shoot short videos and even share your content straight to social media.

If you want to print photos from your smartphone gallery, there's the Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer. This portable $80 printer connects to any iOS or Android device with Bluetooth capabilities and can print whatever photos you send to it.

The Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer connects to an app that allows you to add filters and other effects to your photos. Kodak

All three Kodak STEP devices come with some of that magical printer paper, but you can order additional refills, too—a 20-sheet set costs $8 on Amazon.

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35 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in August

Buckle up! National Roller Coaster Day is coming.
Buckle up! National Roller Coaster Day is coming.
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Many of August's quirky holidays revolve around celebrating loved ones and seasonal delights, so grab your family (Fido included) and a bag of marshmallow and let's party.

1. August 1: National Girlfriends Day

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Rest easy, boyfriends of the world, this holiday has nothing to do with you. National Girlfriends Day honors the lady friends who are there for their fellow lady friends.

2. August 1: Respect for Parents Day

We have a feeling an unappreciated parent came up with this holiday.

3. August 1: Rounds Resounding Day

This offbeat holiday honors the art of singing rounds, so find some pitch-perfect friends and warm up those vocal chords (via Zoom is fine).

4. August 1: National Mustard Day

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We'll use any excuse to eat a hot dog—or three.

5. August 2: National Psychic Day

But don't bother planning a surprise party for your resident clairvoyant.

6. August 2: National Sisters Day

Make sure to set aside the first Sunday in August as a day to celebrate the unique bond that you have with your sister(s).

7. August 4: Single Working Women's Day

In 2006, Barbara Payne established the Single Working Women’s Affiliate Network to recognize the achievements that single women have contributed to the world. Single Working Women's Day comes at the end of Single Working Women's Week, a time to celebrate the women "who do it all. Not only do they bring home the bacon, but they also shop for it, cook it, serve it and clean it up, then take out the garbage, walk the dog, and fix the sink (or call the repairman!)."

8. August 5: National Underwear Day

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Underwear emporium Freshpair founded National Underwear Day on August 5, 2003. Since then it has grown to include events around the country that encourage the 80 percent of people who have worn the same style of underwear their whole lives to branch out.

9. August 6: National Fresh Breath Day

If ever there were a day to stage an intervention with your halitosis-afflicted friends, today’s the day. Or, give yourself an extra brush and a bonus swirl of mouthwash and say ah. Probably a good idea to lay off the onions and garlic for the day, too.

10. August 7: International Beer Day

Back in 2007, a group of friends decided to internationally dedicate a day to "gather with friends and enjoy the deliciousness that is beer, celebrate the dedicated men and women who brew and serve our beer, and bring the world together under the united banner of beer." And to that we say, cheers! Or salud! Or prost! Or gan bei! Well, you get the idea.

11. August 7: National Lighthouse Day

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In 1989, on the 200th anniversary of having signed "An Act for the Establishment and Support of Lighthouse, Beacons, Buoys and Public Piers" into law, Congress decreed August 7 to be National Lighthouse Day.

12. August 8: National Dollar Day

On this day all the way back in 1786, the Continental Congress established a monetary system for the United States of America. Today, you can honor the birth of cold hard USD cash by carrying a few Georges, Andrews, and Abrahams in your wallet. If you decide to invite Benjamin, give us a call!

13. August 8: National Happiness Happens Day

Celebrated annually on the founding date of the Society of Happy People (formerly known as the Secret Society of Happy People—but why keep that a secret?), which you can join for free.

14. August 9: National Book Lovers Day

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For most book lovers, every day is a day to celebrate reading. But for the sake of celebration let’s open up the floor to all interpretations of what it means to be a “book lover.” Perhaps you just love the physical feel of a book, and have no interest in cracking one open. Or maybe, this day is meant to honor books in love with each other. Today is the day to exalt book lovers of all shapes, sizes, covers, and word counts.

15. August 9: Veep Day

Veep Day commemorates the date in 1974 when Gerald Ford became President without ever having been elected as either vice president or president. Ford had become vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned due to a kickback scandal. When Nixon later resigned amid the Watergate scandal, Ford found himself occupying the Oval Office. This was the first time the VP had become president under these terms.

16. August 10: National Lazy Day

National Lazy Day falls on a Monday this year. So be sure to plan ahead.

17. August 10: National S’mores Day

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The original s’mores recipe, published in Scout leader Loretta Scott Crew's 1927 Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts, called these campfire treats Some Mores. Which is exactly what you'll be asking for.

18. August 11: National Presidential Joke Day

On this day in 1984, during a sound check for a radio broadcast, Ronald Reagan cracked the following joke:

“My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

Who knew the Gipper had such a dark sense of humor? He certainly didn’t know the mic was already recording, and the tape leaked. Since this little gaffe, August 11th has lived on as Presidential Joke Day.

19. August 12: National Middle Child Day

Even though birth order doesn't really affect your personality, let's hear it for the middle children of the world.

20. August 12: Vinyl Record Day

First declared such in 2002, Vinyl Record Day is held on the anniversary of Thomas Edison's 1877 invention of the phonograph.

21. August 13: International Left Handers Day

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For those world citizens who have found themselves in a right-handed-scissors world, today the world honors your special gifts. The other 364, we righties are still secretly jealous. If you’re in the UK on the 13th, the Left-handers Club sponsors members-only areas called “Lefty Zones." Okay fine, we’re jealous all 365 days.

22. August 15: Chauvin Day

If you're worried that this is a day to celebrate chauvinists—you're actually kind of right. But don't worry: On the anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte's birthday, we celebrate the interesting etymological history of the word chauvinism, which comes from a man named Nicolas Chauvin, who idealized Napoleon so much that he became internationally mocked for his blind loyalty to a cause. From there the term became associated with any misguided or ill-intentioned adherence to a particular cause, and finally, the discriminatory mindset it refers to today. And now, for some reason, we honor him and it.

23. August 15: International Geocaching Day

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite fans all over the world will be participating in this celebration without even knowing it.

24. August 15: National Relaxation Day

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Preferably celebrated in a hammock, on a beach, or with a pooped pup.

25. August 16: Joe Miller’s Joke Day

Joe Miller was an 18th century English actor whose reputation for being serious was so well known, we now hold an offbeat joke-telling holiday in his honor.

26. August 16: National Roller Coaster Day

The amusement first took root in the U.S. as a means of distracting people from unsavory entertainments. More than 130 years later, it's still going strong.

27. August 18: Bad Poetry Day

Roses are red / Violets are blue/ You probably saw this joke coming/ But we made it anyway.

28. August 19: National Aviation Day

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt laid out the ultimate burn by declaring Orville Wright's birthday National Aviation Day. Why he chose to honor Orville over Wilbur in 1939 is a mystery to historians, but we think National Aviation Day is a great time to start preposterous rumors based on wild speculation, i.e. maybe Wilbur Wright was a figment of Orville’s imagination. (It could also have had something to do with the fact that Orville was still alive when FDR made the day official ... and Wilbur was not.)

29. August 21: National Poet's Day

A day to soothe the bruised egos of poets mocked just three days prior on August 18's Bad Poetry Day.

30. August 21: National Senior Citizens Day

Now this is the holiday for which Reagan would have wanted to be remembered. On August 19th, 1988, a proclamation was made by the then-president that deemed August 21st as a national day to give older U.S. citizens thanks and a heartfelt salute. Decades later, we're still doing it.

31. August 22: National Tooth Fairy Day

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Because anyone who can make a money magically appear under your pillow deserves a day of feting.

32. August 26: National Dog Day

Be sure to give a dog—or all the dogs—you love an extra treat or belly rub. Because they're all good boys and girls.

33. August 26: Women’s Equality Day

Celebrated on the anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment, which prohibits discrimination in voting rights on the basis of sex.

34. August 28: National Bow Tie Day

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Celebrate by learning how to tie one.

35. August 31: National Trail Mix Day

Also known as National GORP Day. We love us a handy bag of “good ol’ raisins and peanuts,” but let’s be honest: the addition of M&M’s are what make trail mix truly great.