Christmas tales in built form | Inquirer Business

Christmas tales in built form

Who doesn’t love a great Christmas tale?

Families swapping stories in front of the fireplace during Christmas time is one of the most beloved scenes of the season. Coupled with some hot cocoa mugs and some wide-eyed children, the image reflects all the love, magic and happiness we’ve come to associate with the season.

Not all tales, however, are told through words. Some are encapsulated in structures of glass and steel, or décor of lights and frills. Yes, various forms of architecture around the world tell fantastic Christmas stories, though these may not be evident at first sight.

Here are some interesting Christmas tales told by architecture of the past and the present.


The tunnel that raised OCD awareness

The Holland Tunnel, a busy conduit under the Hudson River, connects New York City to New Jersey. The tunnel found itself the center of a debacle in 2018 when its Christmas decorations disgruntled and distressed thousands of motorists.


The decorations were quite simple—they were basically composed of a Christmas tree and two wreathes. They were positioned, however, in a poor way. In particular, the triangular Christmas tree was placed over the letter “N” whereas the adjacent letter “A” would have been a better fit. While one wreath was placed over “O,” the other was placed over “U” which made the signage read “Holland Tonnel” from afar.

While the mistakes may seem trivial, numerous motorists who frequented the area were infuriated over the eyesore. Cory Windelspecht, a commuter who suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), led a petition to change the decorations. According to him, “this one small thing triggers anyone with the slightest hint of OCD every time they enter the city. On top of that, it’s just unsightly and ruins the holiday festivities for people to enjoy on such a great piece of architecture.”

The petition was signed by over 3,000 people and caught the attention of media. The beer company Budweiser even showed solidarity by intentionally replicating the questionable decor on their Newark Brewery signage.

In the end, the Port Authority, which managed Holland Tunnel, made the changes. The tree was eventually moved over the letter “A” and the wreath which was placed over “U” was relocated to another area. To avoid repeating the fiasco, the authorities just replicated the corrected setup in the following year. This debacle made public officials realize that Christmas decorations should always reflect pleasing aesthetics.

The trees that kept on giving

The Hungarian architecture firm Hello Wood makes sure that the spirit of Christmas is embodied in its installations for the festivities.

In 2013, the firm built a wooden Christmas tree in front of the Palace of Arts in Budapest. Despite its traditional shape, the installation hid a pleasant surprise: it was made out of 365 sledges that could be disassembled and used after the holiday season. According to Andras Huszar, one of the architects of Hello Wood, “This is the point of social awareness, you don’t only show something, but at the same time you give something unique.” Two weeks after the display, the tree was disassembled and the sledges were distributed to children living in the homes of SOS Children’s Village.


The year after, Hello Wood wowed the public anew when it built a Christmas tree in one of Budapest’s central squares. This time, the installation was called the “Charity Tree” and was made up of firewood that would later be distributed to families in need. The 2014 tree symbolized “the importance of caring about each other” and was aimed at raising awareness on the domestic heating problems in Hungary during the winter months.

Later on, the firm built the “Timber Tree” and the “Lightbox Tree” which also used components that were repurposed after the installation. These Christmas trees demonstrated takes on holiday décor which highlighted, rather than hid, social problems that needed to be dealt with. Hello Wood’s work reminds us that Christmas is more than a holiday of decorations and merriment. It is first and foremost, a season of giving.

Deadly decorations

Nowadays, decorating for Christmas is usually a harmless and fun-filled affair.

In the past, however, many decorations and setups were actually made out of toxic substances and dangerous materials. In fact, Christmas trees in the early 20th century were actually laden with real candles. The fact that these hot sticks were placed on actual wood trees heightened the danger. Thankfully, the development of electric string lights replaced these fire hazards in modern times.

Asbestos, now a well-established carcinogen, was also formerly used to create fake snow. Many antique ornaments from the 1930s and 1940s reflect traces of this white powder. If you happen to have some heirloom ornaments lying around the house, look for white dust and throw out the ornament if you do find some. Thankfully, it takes prolonged exposure to the material for it to cause serious health effects.

Lastly, in the past, metal trees became all the rage, especially aluminum ones. In particular, they were quite popular during the Space Age. Unfortunately, these pose a deadly risk for those unaware that they do not go well with electric lights. The tree could become charged with electricity if the lights are faulty and a person touching the branch could be accidentally electrocuted. Due to these risks and the public’s clamor for the natural and authentic, these trees eventually faded from the stores.

Nevertheless, these dangerous ornaments remind us of a time when we were blissfully unaware of the various risks that we would put ourselves in during the Christmas season.

A time to celebrate

Though not all Christmas stories are festive, one thing certainly holds true: the season tells a lot about us, from our decoration choices to our histories.

This Christmas, remember all the things that represent the good and bad events that you’ve gone through this year. These built items, big and small, represent all the growth that you’ve gone through in life. Cherish these elements as they made you wiser, stronger and better than before.

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Sources:; Virginia Maissen via; The Port Authority of NY and NJ via CBS New York;;; Aram Dulyan via Wikimedia Commons; Djurdjina ph.djiz via


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