Santa is not the only difference (see previous post) between Austria and the U.S. when it comes to traditions surrounding Christmas. Another major difference is the tree. While in the U.S. most families set up and decorate the tree as early as the first day after Thanksgiving, the tree is not decorated and revealed until December 24 in Austria. Of course there is also the difference between electric lights and real candle light and sparklers. The candles and sparklers are also the reason for two additional large differences. The first difference is the smell associated with unwrapping Christmas gifts: I associate Christmas and gifts with the smell of extinguished candles and the slight smoke of spent sparklers.
The second difference is the ideal shape and decorations of the tree. Since candles need plenty of empty space so they do not ignite the decorations and branches above the flame, branches are pretty far apart and decorations need to be kept to a minimum right around the candles. My husband, thus, has always compared Austrian trees (lovingly) to Charlie Brown’s sad tree.
However, traditions and tastes are hard to shake, so an American tree can be very beautiful, amazingly elaborate, and a great decorating item for December and the pre-Christmas time, but it does not seem like a “real” Christmas tree to me. The great advantage of that attitude is that my (for Americans) peculiar taste in trees means I usually get my tree with large discounts since no one else seems to be on the hunt for a tree with few branches, plenty of space between the branches, and still in the lot just a few days before Christmas. Maybe I should have two trees: the more elaborate, dazzling American version and the minimalistic Austrian tree.
PS: I do NOT recommend putting candles and sparklers on American trees. Also, we usually had fire extinguisher and/or a bucket of water right next to tree, so we were prepared.