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
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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
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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
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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.

Run! IHOP Is Giving Away Free Pancakes for National Pancake Day

What better way to celebrate National Pancake Day than with a free stack of IHOP's signature buttermilk pancakes?
What better way to celebrate National Pancake Day than with a free stack of IHOP's signature buttermilk pancakes?
StephanieFrey/iStock via Getty Images

If ever there were a day to forgo that container of leftovers in the fridge and treat yourself to breakfast for dinner, it’s today: IHOP is celebrating National Pancake Day by giving each customer a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes. The dine-in deal is available at participating locations from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.—but the hours can vary, so you might want to confirm with your local IHOP before heading there.

While a pile of hot, syrup-soaked pancakes is definitely a good enough incentive to visit IHOP immediately, it’s not the only one. IHOP is also hosting a sweepstakes that offers thousands of instant-win prizes across all locations, and you can only enter by scanning the QR code on your table at IHOP. One lucky carb-loader will win the grand prize—pancakes for life—and other rewards include everything from $500 IHOP gift cards to IHOP merchandise like blankets, watches, duffel bags, customizable jackets, and even bikes.

The pan-tastic event is all in the spirit of charity, and IHOP is hoping to raise more than $4 million for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Shriners Hospitals for Children, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society—you can donate online here. According to a press release, IHOP has contributed more than $30 million to its charity partners since beginning its National Pancake Day celebrations in 2006.

“IHOP launched its National Pancake Day event 15 years ago as a way to celebrate the best food ever—pancakes—and put a purpose behind the day by partnering with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and other charities to help kids in our communities,” Stephanie Peterson, IHOP’s executive director of communications, said in the release.

If you can’t make it to IHOP to claim your free short stack today, you can always celebrate National Pancake Day with a tall stack of homemade pancakes—find out how to make them extra fluffy here.

Why Do People Toss Beads During Mardi Gras?

Kameleon007/iStock via Getty Images
Kameleon007/iStock via Getty Images

Each year, more than 1 million people descend on New Orleans for Mardi Gras, an organized parade of debauchery and alcohol-induced torpor that may be the closest thing modern civilization has to the excesses of ancient Rome. Saturating the scene on Bourbon Street are plastic beads, handed or tossed to partygoers as a kind of currency. Some bare their breasts or offer booze in exchange for the tokens; others catch them in the air and wear the layers around their necks. Roughly 25 million pounds of beads are in circulation annually, making them as much a part of the Fat Tuesday celebration as sugary cocktails and King Cake.

Traditions and rituals can be hard to pin down, but Mardi Gras historians believe the idea of distributing trinkets began in the 1870s or 1880s, several hundred years after French settlers introduced the celebration to Louisiana in the 1600s. Party organizers—known locally as krewes—handed out baubles and other shiny objects to revelers to help commemorate the occasion. Some of them threw chocolate-covered almonds. They were joined by more mischievous attendees, who threw dirt or flour on people in an effort to stir up a little bit of trouble.

Why beads? Tiny tokens that represent wealth, health, and other prosperity have been a part of human history for centuries. In Egypt, tokens were handed out in the hopes they would guarantee a happy afterlife; the abacus, or bead-based system of accounting, used trinkets to perform calculations; pagan pre-winter rituals had people throwing grains into fields hoping to appease gods that would nourish their crops.

Humans, argues archaeologist Laurie Wilkie, display "bead lust," or a penchant for shiny objects. It's one possible reason why Mardi Gras attracts so many people with their arms in the air, elated to receive a gift of cheap plastic.

Photo of a well-dressed bulldog celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Mario Tama, Getty Images

The early beads were made of glass before more efficient production methods overseas led to an influx of plastic beads in the 1960s. Unlike some of the more organic predecessors, these beads have come under criticism for being a source of health problems and pollution. Made from petroleum, they often harbor lead that seeps into the soil and rubs off on hands. (One estimate puts the lead deposit after a Mardi Gras celebration at 4000 pounds.) In 2017, New Orleans paid $7 million in clean-up costs to remove discarded beads from drain basins. In 2018, they installed gutter guards to prevent the necklaces from getting into the system in the first place. Meanwhile, scientists have been working to create an even more eco-friendly version of the beads—like a biodegradable version made from microalgae.

Environmental hazards aside, the beads of Mardi Gras have become as much a holiday staple as Christmas stockings or Thanksgiving turkeys. But the passion and desperate need for them is only temporary; in 2018, 46 tons of the beads were removed from just five blocks of the main parade route on Charles Street. And no bacchanal should leave that much bad juju behind.

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