See the World’s Most Unusual Christmas Trees

From the beach to a cave, these vintage photos reveal a rich history of celebration around the world.

The tradition of decorating a tree or tree-like structure around Christmas began in Germany and has spread around the world over the past few centuries. In many places, the look of the tree is inspired by the local culture, climate, or environment, leading to a wide variety of expressions. In this gallery we explore some of this festive creativity.

In the U.S., roughly 70 percent of people choose artificial trees, in large part because of their convenience. Still, those trees typically require petroleum to make, are rarely recycled, take up space in landfills, and must often be shipped around the world. Most are made in China, with dirty coal-fired electricity, and some contain toxic lead. (See how artificial Christmas trees are made.)

For those reasons, most environmentalists say going with a real tree is actually greener. Sustainably harvested trees can suck up carbon dioxide from the air as they grow and provide habitat for wildlife. They can also save energy and water over the course of their lifecycle. A particularly green choice is an organically grown tree, which is grown without toxic pesticides that are otherwise used by many growers.

Other green options include buying a tree that was locally grown—to reduce the impact of fuel—using a live tree and then planting it in the ground after the celebrations, or decorating a houseplant. Some people also opt for the “Charlie Brown tree” look by collecting boughs from the yard and fashioning them into a makeshift “tree.”

Other possibilities include celebrating an outside tree, a rock formation, or even a sweater. These photos explore some of the best of these ideas.