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The Most Unusual Holiday Tree Lighting Traditions around the U.S.

Five alternative holiday "tree" lightings to make your holidays bright

There’s something magical about Christmas trees, with their twinkling lights among verdant evergreen boughs. But there’s more than one way to light a tree (or at least something that resembles one). Travel across the country this holiday season, and you’ll find all kinds of inventive holiday “trees” made from everything from old skis to tumbleweeds. Here are some of the most fun (and unusual) “tree” lighting ceremonies going on this year:

The Circle of Lights – Indianapolis, Indiana
November 27th
Rather than erecting a traditional conifer, the city of Indianapolis decorates the magnificent Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in the city’s center. The 284-foot obelisk is lit with strings of large colored lights draped from just below Lady Victory, at the top of the monument, to the stone steps at its base. Locals come out in force to watch the tree lighting; because the monument sits in the center of a large traffic circle, you can get a great view from a variety of locations. It can get chilly at this time of year, so grab a cup of steaming cocoa from a vendor to keep your hands warm. Learn more at Visit Indy

Austin's Trail of Lights
The Zilker Holiday Tree and Trail of Lights – Austin, Texas
November 29th
You wouldn’t expect Austin, the city of “weird,” to have a traditional Christmas tree, but the “tree” and the Trail of Lights in Zilker Park is really something to be seen. The 155-foot tall “tree” is composed of strings of lights—39 strings and 3,309 lights, to be exact—arranged in a giant cone that is big enough for visitors to wander around inside of. And at the surrounding Trail of Lights, and you can make crafts in Santa’s Workshop, ride a sparkling Ferris wheel, and watch candy-makers work in Candy Land. Learn more at The Trail of Lights.

The Tumbleweed Tree – Chandler, Arizona
December 5th
If you live in a part of the country where typical Christmas fir trees are hard to come by, it helps to get creative. That’s why the city of Chandler, Arizona long ago adopted a policy of using something they have readily available: tumbleweeds. Their 30-foot-tall Tumbleweed Tree—made up of tumbleweeds that are attached to a tree-shaped scaffolding, spray-painted white, and decorated with colored lights—draws visitors from around the Southwest every year. As the sun goes down on December 5th, head downtown to enjoy activities, dance performances, and the Parade of Lights before the “tree” is illuminated. See the full schedule at the City of Chandler.

The Ski Tree in Telluride
The Ski Tree Lighting and Ullr’s Ceremonial Ski Burn – Telluride, Colorado
December 5th
Now that snow is falling fast on the slopes around Telluride, it’s time to dust off those old skis and… burn them? Every year, residents and visitors to Telluride ring in the holiday season by lighting a tree made of donated skis and then burning a bonfire of ceremonial wood and cardboard skis to honor the Norse god Ullr. It’s not the only time Telluride burns skis (the town has been known to do it during droughts), but it’s certainly the most festive. Rest assured, you can also keep your skis and hit the slopes with them any time before or after the event. Learn more about the evening’s events and entertainment from Visit Telluride

The Lobster Trap Tree – Gloucester, Massachusetts
December 12th
Up and down the coast of New England, you’ll find another unique kind of Christmas decoration: the lobster trap “tree.” These “trees”, made up of square lobster traps, can be found in front yards and town squares pretty much anywhere lobster is caught. No one knows where the tradition started, but Gloucester, Massachusetts was probably the first place to make a large, communal tree. Their 45-foot specimen is composed of over 350 traps donated by local lobstermen and is decorated with buoy “ornaments” that have been painted by local kids (and that will be auctioned off to support the Cape Ann Art Haven). Learn more at Historic Gloucester, MA.