8 Regional Alternatives to Christmas Trees

iStock
iStock

Christmas trees, along with mistletoe and festive wreaths, are an integral part of the December holiday season. Although conifers such as fir, pine, and spruce are the most popular Christmas trees, some people around the country switch it up and decorate with unconventional options. From trees made of cacti to whiskey barrels, set your sights on these eight regional alternatives to traditional Christmas trees.

1. CACTI // ARIZONA

Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is known for many varieties of cacti, from the saguaro to the prickly pear. Some families in the southwest incorporate native cacti into their Christmas celebrations, but a hotel in Tuscon takes it to another level. Each Christmas since 1986, the Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa has displayed a Golden Barrel Cactus Christmas tree, made of 17 rows of 300 of the small, round cacti. The 24-foot tree is decorated with regal ribbons and lights.

2. SAND // FLORIDA

Sandi Land in West Palm Beach Florida
iStock

Given their state’s year-round warm temperatures, Floridians are much more familiar with sand than snow. As a nod to the Sunshine State’s warm weather, some Floridians celebrate Christmas by lighting a tree made of sand. Along the West Palm Beach Waterfront, sand sculptors create a 35-foot tall Christmas tree made entirely of sand. Nicknamed Sandi, the tree weighs a whopping 600 tons.

3. POINSETTIAS // SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Poinsettias are popular Christmas decorations everywhere, but Southern Californians show their love for the Mexican plant in a special way. Residents of San Diego gather in the Little Italy neighborhood to marvel at a poinsettia tree. One thousand local poinsettia plants are stacked to make a 25-foot Christmas tree that is then adorned with thousands of carefully placed LED lights.

4. LOBSTER TRAPS // NEW ENGLAND

Lobster Traps Christmas Tree
iStock

Why decorate a conifer when you can build a Christmas tree out of hundreds of lobster traps? The crustacean is a big part of life in New England, and you can find lobster trap Christmas trees in towns such as Gloucester, Massachusetts and Rockland, Maine. The trees typically consist of wooden or metal lobster traps that are stacked upon one another, and then topped with a traditional star or, fittingly, a lobster figurine.

5. OLD SKIS // COLORADO

Rather than throw out their old skis, some Coloradans donate them for Telluride’s Christmas ski tree. Since 2013, members of the ski town have created a tree made of colorful layers of skis, topped with a star made of ski poles. Locals even gather for a tree lighting ceremony and bonfire—they burn wood and cardboard skis to celebrate Ullr, the Norse god of skiing.

6. PALMETTOS // SOUTH CAROLINA

Christmas Palmetto Trees
iStock

If you visit Charleston during Christmas, you’ll see plenty of festive palmetto trees decorated with string lights. As the state tree of South Carolina (and Florida), the palmetto is all over the city, making it an ideal warm-weather alternative to the evergreen. Although most residents celebrate Christmas with traditional conifers, too, the prevalence of decorated palmettos is hard to ignore.

7. TUMBLEWEEDS // ARIZONA

Tumbleweeds are plentiful in the barren, desolate parts of the southwest. And in Chandler, Arizona, locals have used tumbleweeds to celebrate Christmas since 1957. To make the 30-foot-tall tumbleweed tree, Chandler Park Operations employees gather 1000 tumbleweeds, attach the plants to a tree-shaped wire frame, and spray the tree with white paint and glitter. They then decorate the tree with more than one thousand festive lights.

8. WHISKEY BARRELS // TENNESSEE

The Jack Daniel’s Distillery is world-famous for making authentic Tennessee whiskey. Thanks to the alcohol company, members of the Lynchburg community can celebrate the holidays by marveling at the company’s whiskey barrel tree. Made of 140 empty whiskey barrels, the tree stands at 26 feet and weighs 16,000 pounds.

The Most Popular Christmas Cookie in Each State

Jen Tepp/iStock via Getty Images
Jen Tepp/iStock via Getty Images

While opinions about peppermint bark, reindeer corn, and other Christmas candies are important enough to warrant a map of their own, we all know that the real crown jewel of any kitchen counter during the holidays is an enormous platter of homemade cookies.

In a festive endeavor to guess which type of cookie is most likely to be on your counter this Christmas, General Mills collected search data from BettyCrocker.com, Pillsbury.com, and Tablespoon.com, and created a map that shows which recipes are clicked most often in each state.

Those universally adored Hershey Kiss-topped peanut butter cookies, known on Betty Crocker’s website as Classic Peanut Butter Blossoms, took the top spot in seven states, including Florida, Pennsylvania, California, Kentucky, Nevada, South Carolina, and Wyoming. And people don’t just love peanut butter in blossom form—Easy Peanut Butter Cookie Cups, Peanut Butter-Chocolate Cookies, and 2-Ingredient PB-Chocolate Truffles also made appearances on the list.

general mills christmas cookies map
General Mills

Peanut butter treats are definitely a popular choice among holiday bakers in general, and cookie decorators are likely responsible for the prevalence of plain old sugar cookies across the nation. Sugar Cookie Cutouts, Easy Spritz Cookies, and Easy Italian Christmas Cookies all offer a deliciously blank slate for your artistic aspirations.

Apart from peanut butter- and plain sugar-based desserts, the rest of the results were pretty scattered. Iowa most often opts for the figure eight-shaped Swedish Kringla, while Michigan loves a good jam-filled Polish Kolaczki. Surprisingly, Hawaii was the only state to choose gingerbread cookies as their seasonal favorite.

If you’re thinking classic chocolate chip cookies are suspiciously absent from this map altogether, you have great dessert-related detective skills: General Mills decided to omit them from the study, since they’re Betty Crocker’s most-searched cookie recipe all year long, and they would’ve dominated in a staggering 22 states.

Whether you’re looking for a new show-stopping cookie recipe or just wondering how your long-standing family traditions compare to others’, you can read more on the study—and see all the recipes in full—here.

[h/t General Mills]

8 Bizarre Fan Theories About Your Favorite Holiday Movies

Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures

We all love a heartwarming holiday movie. On a cold winter’s day, few things are more comforting than curling up on the couch and getting into the Christmas spirit with a holiday movie marathon—no matter how many times you've seen the films in the lineup before.

While the plot lines rarely yield any surprises, multiple viewings of a movie can allow you to start to notice some things going on under the surface. With the rise of Reddit and other social media networks, fan theories have become a popular pastime for many pop culture fiends—and these alternate interpretations can sometimes go to some pretty dark places.

From Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to Home Alone, here are some bizarre fan theories about the holiday movies you only thought you knew.

1. The Santa Clause proves that the North Pole is full of cannibals.

On the surface, The Santa Clause series is the heartwarming tale of Tim Allen taking on the duties of a fallen Santa in need. But Twitter user Hannah Priest thinks it’s about something else entirely: The North Pole is inhabited by cannibals. Her evidence? The elves’ casual attitude toward death and a “new” Santa just taking over, the hundreds of elves (and Mrs. Clauses) who apparently go missing over the course of the series, and the size of the oven in the kitchen. “The elves are clearly baking women (& possibly children) in their oven, then using the bodies to make ceremonial cocoa, which they then feed to future Santas,” Priest tweeted. But this is one theory that’s best read in full (which you can do here).

2. Santa in The Santa Clause is actually an exiled wizard from Harry Potter.

Another theory about The Santa Clause would have you believe that Santa is an alumnus of Hogwarts. We all know Santa is magical, but the evidence does stack up. How does Santa get up and down chimneys? Floo powder, of course. And why can’t we see him? And how does he get to every house in one night? These jobs are made a little easier with an invisibility cloak and a time turner, of course.

3. Home Alone's Kevin McCallister grew up to be Saw’s Jigsaw.


20th Century Fox

In 2014, Grantland’s Jason Concepcion proposed a brilliant, if dastardly, theory that suggested a connection between holiday classic Home Alone and the terrifying Saw horror franchise. In a nutshell, he believes that Kevin McCallister and Jigsaw are the same person—and he made some pretty solid points.

For one, even at the tender age of eight, Kevin shows a talent for setting up some pretty elaborate traps, and he also has a clear obsession with recorded video. He’s also almost too interested in the rumor about Old Man Marley, his neighbor, who is rumored to be a serial killer. Some of the torture from the Saw movies also end up being eerily similar to the “pranks” Kevin pulls on the Wet Bandits. Concepcion goes even deeper, and you should read all of it here.

4. John Candy’s Home Alone character is the devil.

Kevin McCallister isn’t the only Home Alone character with a purported dark side. There’s a lot of suspicion surrounding John Candy’s character, Gus Polinski (a.k.a. the “Polka King of the Midwest”) as well. One Reddit theory goes like this: at one point in Home Alone, Kevin’s mom says that she would “sell [her] soul to the devil” if could just get back to Chicago to be with her son. The next time we see her, Gus Polinski appears and offers her a ride back to the Windy City. Coincidence? Not everyone thinks so—and this theory goes even deeper. Gus plays the clarinet, which is a woodwind instrument, and woodwinds are considered the instrument of Satan.

5. No, wait: Mia from Love Actually is the devil.

Not to be outdone, yet another popular holiday movie fan theory states that Mia (Heike Makatsch)—Alan Rickman’s wannabe-home wrecker of an assistant from Love Actually—is actually the devil. This one is actually a two-part theory, which posits that Rowan Atkinson is an angel while Mia is the devil. Adding credence to the latter part of this is the fact that the film’s writer/director Richard Curtis actually confirmed the former part.

Atkinson’s character was meant to have a larger role and serve as a sort of guardian angel to several of the film’s characters, but the filmmaker eventually decided it would be too much. But Mia’s devilish behavior is on full display: in addition to her repeated attempts to lure Harry (Rickman) away from Karen (Emma Thompson), she shows up at a company holiday party wearing devil horns.

6. Buddy the Elf is a creep.


Warner Bros.

Buddy, Will Ferrell’s maple syrup-loving character in Elf, is beloved for his childlike demeanor and over-the-top Christmas spirit. But some people believe this supposed naiveté may all be a ruse. And if that is in fact the case, then Buddy’s behavior is … questionable at best. Buddy, under this theory, would be a sociopath who forces his way into a random home through coercion and befriends a young child, all while stalking a random woman (Zooey Deschanel) he met through a job for which he was never actually hired.

7. Rudolph is Donner’s bastard son.

As compelling as it is absurd, one Redditor believes that Rudolph isn’t being told the truth about his parentage. We know, of course, that Rudolph doesn’t look like either his mother or his father. And that the other reindeer “used to laugh and call him names.” And that the father of Rudolph’s love interest, Clarice, seems incensed at the idea of his daughter being seen with a red-nosed reindeer. “The only explanation is that the red-nose is like a scarlet letter A,” the theory goes. “Rudolph is an illegitimate child, a bastard, an unclean birth.” (You can read the full docket of evidence here.)

8. Arnold Schwarzenegger is psychotic in Jingle All the Way, and Sinbad is a figment of his fractured mind.


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In Jingle All the Way, Arnold Schwarzenegger definitely seems stressed out about trying to acquire a Turbo-Man—the hot toy of the holiday season—for his son. But has all that stress led to a psychotic break with reality? One Redditor believes that might be the case, as Howard Langston (Schwarzenegger) suspiciously only seems to see Myron (played by Sinbad) in his most stressful moments. It could be a coincidence, but as Arnold’s hijinks escalate, there’s Sinbad egging him on every time.

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