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.

10 Fascinating Facts About Chinese New Year

iStock.com/aluxum
iStock.com/aluxum

Some celebrants call it the Spring Festival, a stretch of time that signals the progression of the lunisolar Chinese calendar; others know it as the Chinese New Year. For a 15-day period beginning January 25 in 2020, China will welcome the Year of the Rat, one of 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac table.

Sound unfamiliar? No need to worry: Check out 10 facts about how one-sixth of the world's total population rings in the new year.

1. Chinese New Year was originally meant to scare off a monster.

Nian at Chinese New Year
iStock.com/jjMiller11

As legend would have it, many of the trademarks of the Chinese New Year are rooted in an ancient fear of Nian, a ferocious monster who would wait until the first day of the year to terrorize villagers. Acting on the advice of a wise old sage, the townspeople used loud noises from drums, fireworks, and the color red to scare him off—all remain components of the celebration today.

2. A lot of families use Chinese New Year as motivation to clean the house.

woman ready to clean a home
iStock.com/PRImageFactory

While the methods of honoring the Chinese New Year have varied over the years, it originally began as an opportunity for households to cleanse their quarters of "huiqi," or the breaths of those that lingered in the area. Families performed meticulous cleaning rituals to honor deities that they believed would pay them visits. The holiday is still used as a time to get cleaning supplies out, although the work is supposed to be done before it officially begins.

3. Chinese New Year will prompt billions of trips.

Man waiting for a train.
iStock.com/MongkolChuewong

Because the Chinese New Year places emphasis on family ties, hundreds of millions of people will use the Lunar period to make the trip home. Accounting for cars, trains, planes, and other methods of transport, the holiday is estimated to prompt nearly three billion trips over the 15-day timeframe.

4. Chinese New Year involves a lot of superstitions.

Colorful pills and medications
iStock.com/FotografiaBasica

While not all revelers subscribe to embedded beliefs about what not to do during the Chinese New Year, others try their best to observe some very particular prohibitions. Visiting a hospital or taking medicine is believed to invite ill health; lending or borrowing money will promote debt; crying children can bring about bad luck.

5. Some people rent boyfriends or girlfriends for Chinese New Year to soothe their parents.

Young Asian couple smiling
iStock.com/RichVintage

In China, it's sometimes frowned upon to remain single as you enter your thirties. When singles return home to visit their parents, some will opt to hire a person to pose as their significant other in order to make it appear like they're in a relationship and avoid parental scolding. Rent-a-boyfriends or girlfriends can get an average of $145 a day.

6. Red envelopes are everywhere during Chinese New Year.

a person accepting a red envelope
iStock.com/Creative-Family

An often-observed tradition during Spring Festival is to give gifts of red envelopes containing money. (The color red symbolizes energy and fortune.) New bills are expected; old, wrinkled cash is a sign of laziness. People sometimes walk around with cash-stuffed envelopes in case they run into someone they need to give a gift to. If someone offers you an envelope, it's best to accept it with both hands and open it in private.

7. Chinese New Year can create record levels of smog.

fireworks over Beijing's Forbidden City
iStock.com/lusea

Fireworks are a staple of Spring Festival in China, but there's more danger associated with the tradition than explosive mishaps. Cities like Beijing can experience a 15-fold increase in particulate pollution. In 2016, Shanghai banned the lighting of fireworks within the metropolitan area.

8. Black clothes are a bad omen during Chinese New Year.

toddler dressed up for Chinese New Year
iStock.com/lusea

So are white clothes. In China, both black and white apparel is traditionally associated with mourning and are to be avoided during the Lunar month. The red, colorful clothes favored for the holiday symbolize good fortune.

9. Chinese New Year leads to planes being stuffed full of cherries.

Bowl of cherries
iStock.com/CatLane

Cherries are such a popular food during the Festival that suppliers need to go to extremes in order to meet demand. In 2017, Singapore Airlines flew four chartered jets to Southeast and North Asian areas. More than 300 tons were being delivered in time for the festivities.

10. Panda Express is hoping Chinese New Year will catch on in America.

Box of takeout Chinese food from Panda Express
domandtrey, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Although their Chinese food menu runs more along the lines of Americanized fare, the franchise Panda Express is still hoping the U.S. will get more involved in the festival. The chain is promoting the holiday in its locations by running ad spots and giving away a red envelope containing a gift: a coupon for free food. Aside from a boost in business, Panda Express hopes to raise awareness about the popular holiday in North America.

Write a Letter to Shakespeare’s Juliet for a Chance to Spend Valentine’s Day in Her Romantic Verona Home

Airbnb
Airbnb

Shakespeare didn’t specify which luxurious Italian estate was home to Juliet and her family in Romeo and Juliet, but hopeless romantics have linked a certain 13th-century house in Verona to the Capulets for many years. A balcony was even added during the 20th century to mirror the famous scene from Shakespeare’s play.

Now, Airbnb is offering one pair of star-crossed lovers the opportunity to stay in the house for Valentine’s Day. To apply, you have to write a letter to Juliet explaining why you and your sweetheart would be the ideal guests for the one-night getaway. The winner will be chosen by the Juliet Club, an organization responsible for answering the 50,000 letters addressed to Juliet each year.

juliet's house in verona, italy
Airbnb

If you’re chosen, you won’t just get to spend the evening reenacting the few happy parts of Romeo and Juliet—you’ll also be treated to a candlelight dinner with a cooking demonstration by Michelin-starred Italian chef Giancarlo Perbellini, access to a personal butler for the duration of your stay, tours of both the house and the city of Verona, and the chance to read and answer some letters sent to Juliet. Even the bed you’ll sleep in is especially romantic—it’s the one used in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.

juliet's house in verona, italy
Airbnb

juliet's house in verona, italy
Airbnb

And, of course, you’ll be giving yourself the ultimate Valentine’s Day gift: Freedom from the pressure to plan a perfect Valentine’s Day. The contest is open now through February 2, 2020, and you can apply here.

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