Festival of Trees


December 3, 2023


2:00 pm – 4:00 pm



Mark your calendars for the Museum of the American Hungarian Foundation’s 34th Annual Festival of Trees Opening Reception on December 3, 2-4 pm (@ 300 Somerset St.), with special Holiday musical performances and refreshments. Performance by the Hungarian Scouts of New Brunswick and others! The Festival of Tree exhibit runs from December 3th, 2023 until January 6th, 2024.

This year the Festival of Trees is a hybrid event with Trees in the AHF gallery
& also in downtown New Brunswick!

  • The Heldrich : [10 Livingston Ave] Sister City Trees: Limerick, Ireland; Debrecen [Hungary] Flower Carnival Tree; & Fukui & Tsuruoka, Japanese Tree
  • New Brunswick Performing Arts Center: [11 Livingston Ave] New Brunswick Police & Fire Department Trees, Hungarian & Pride Trees
  • Amboy Bank: [350 George St] Austrian Tree

Welcome to the Museum of the American Hungarian Foundation and the 35th Annual Festival of Trees. 

The American Hungarian Foundation, which celebrated its 68th anniversary in 2023, has occupied this building, the Hungarian Heritage Center, since 1989. It houses a museum, library, and archive. The museum has a permanent collection of fine art, folk art, textiles, ceramics, furniture, and many other pieces related to Hungarian culture. Through our permanent and seasonal exhibits, it is our mission to Collect, Conserve and Celebrate Hungarian culture and share it with others. The building’s second floor houses our library which is a satellite branch of Rutgers University.  It holds over 60,000 books, some over 200 years old.  We also have a large archive, which holds the Bethlen Home and William Penn archives, but also focuses on Hungarian immigration to America, and more specifically the 1956 wave of Hungarian refugees to Camp Kilmer. Our building, which was once the Potter Needle Factory, employed many Hungarian immigrants. New Brunswick has been the home to Hungarian immigrants, starting as early as the 1880s. We are thankful for these early immigrants as they led the way for us to settle in and around Middlesex County. 

The 35th Annual Festival of Trees celebrates the Christmas tree as one of our most important Christmas holiday traditions. The trees have been decorated by local organizations who have been invited to share the holiday traditions of their culture. Many of the trees have been decorated with handmade ornaments. Before Christmas decorations could be purchased, families made their decorations using whatever materials they had in their homes and whatever was available in nature (pinecones, straw, nuts etc.). Sometimes the decorations were edible, made from cookies, candy, nuts, or fruit.

This year’s trees are decorated not only with the traditional ornaments of their country but also with colored balls representing the colors of each nation’s flag.  

If you enjoyed your Christmas trip around the globe, please consider making a donation to the AHF at the front desk or on our museum store. Or here: DONATE TODAY!

Hungary (located in front entrance)

As in several other European countries the Christmas season in Hungary begins on Mikulás (Saint Nicholas Day), December 6th. Children put their shoes out for Saint Nicholas to be filled with treats if they have been good.  If they have been naughty, ‘Krampus’, Mikulás’ evil alter ego, will leave dry twigs in their shoes. 

On Christmas Eve, baby Jesus brings the tree and the gifts. The tree remains decorated until the Epiphany on January 6th. One unique feature of the Christmas celebration in Hungary is the ‘Betlehemes’ or nativity play in which the players carry homemade manger from house to house reenacting the story of the Holy Family. 

The tradition of decorating a Hungarian Christmas tree with ‘szaloncukor’startedin the 19th century. It was named szaloncukor because the tree usually stood in the parlor (szalon in Hungarian; cukor means sugar or candy. The name comes from the German-Austrian Salonzuckerl, this is why the original name was szalonczukkedli.

Debrecen Flower Carnival Tree
Hailing from the picturesque city of Debrecen in the Great Plains of eastern Hungary, this tree serves as a homage to the renowned Debrecen Flower Carnival. An annual tradition since 1966, the carnival unfolds over a week, showcasing a dazzling spectacle of elaborate flower floats and statues crafted from hundreds of thousands of live flowers. The procession through the streets of Debrecen features over 2,000 dancers and musicians, creating a vibrant celebration that encapsulates the city’s rich cultural heritage. New Brunswick, NJ and Debrecen, Hungary have been Sister Cities since 1990.

Trees in alphabetical order:


The weather is warm at Christmas. Preparations for Christmas begin very early in December and even in November. Many people in Argentina are Catholic and also celebrate Advent.

House are beautifully decorated with lights and wreaths of green, gold, red and white flowers. Red and white garlands are hung on the doors of houses. Christmas Trees are also very popular, and they are often decorated by 8th December (the feast of the Immaculate Conception – when Catholics celebrate when Mary conceived). Some people like to put cotton balls on the Christmas Tree to represent snow. Artificial trees are far more common than real ones in Argentina. They can also come in different colors other than green, like white or blue.


The Christmas tree plays a very important role in Austria, and every town sets up its very own. A traditional tree is decorated with ornaments in gold and silver, stars made out of straw, sweets, and candy wrapped in tinfoil, gilded nuts, and decorated gingerbread cookies.

Around 7 p.m. on Christmas Eve, the tree is lit for the first time and the whole family gathers to sing Christmas carols. “Silent Night”, written and performed for the first time on 24 December 1818 by Josef Mohr and Franz Gruber in the Austrian village of Oberndorf, is still the most popular one.

Much like the Rockefeller Center tree in NY, Vienna has a large tree erected in front of the ‘Rathaus’ (city hall).  The tree is decorated with hearts representing each Austrian province.


The first Christmas celebrations in Australia have their roots to late 1788 and were introduced by convicts of the First Fleet, who arrived in Sydney Harbor early the same year. From the 19th century onwards, the tradition of erecting Christmas trees, the sending of Christmas cards and the display of decorations spread throughout Australia. The tradition of sending Christmas cards is so widely practiced in Australia that the price of a Christmas postage stamp is lower than that for a standard letter.

The timing of Christmas occurring during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer season has resulted in the development of some local traditions as a result of the warmer weather. Some Australian writers have occasionally depicted Santa in Australian-style clothing including an Akubra hat, with warm-weather clothing and thongs, and riding in a ute pulled by kangaroos. Christmas down under is spent on the beach so what better way to decorate the tree than with shell ornaments.


This tree is decorated entirely with raw woven straw handmade ornaments. The straw is significant because it is both a native material and symbolic of the straw in Christ Manger.  The ornaments are intricately woven often in the shape of popular folk motifs animals and birds.  On Christmas Eve in Belarus the table is covered with straw and then with a white tablecloth the meal consists of 12 meatless dishes all lean and meatless. These ornaments are most identical to those used in Hungarian decorating. 


In Brazil, Christmas Eve is the main event of the holiday season. Since 54% of the population is Catholic, many Brazilians attend midnight mass, exchange gifts, and celebrate with large family gatherings the night before Christmas.  It just happens to be in the summer.  With its hot and sunny weather on Christmas Day, Brazilians decorate their Christmas trees with pieces of cotton to represent falling snow.


Canada is a very large country with residents of many different cultural backgrounds. Because of this, there are many different Christmas traditions in Canada.  

‘Sinck Tuck’ is a festival started by the Inuit that is celebrated in some provinces of Canada. This celebration consists of dancing and gift exchanging.

Mummering is a tradition which mainly takes place in the province of Newfoundland. People dress up in costumes and knock-on doors and say in a disguised voice, “Are there any Mummers in the night?” Then they sing and dance and if the host does not guess who the Mummers are, the host must join the Mummers in their merry making.

Labrador City in Newfoundland holds a Christmas Light-up Contest each year. People dress the outside of their houses up with lights and often have big ice sculptures in their front gardens.

Canadian children also believe in Santa Claus. Canadians are especially proud to say that their country is the home of Santa Claus. (Although we’re sure the people in Finland would disagree.)

The Santa Claus Parade in Toronto is one of the oldest and largest Santa parades in the world. It started in 1913 when Santa was pulled through the streets of Toronto. Children along the route followed Santa and marched along with him. It’s been taking place for over 100 years and now is a huge event with over 25 animated floats and 2000 people taking part. It’s broadcast on TV around the world.


Before Christianity the ‘jul’ or winter solstice season was celebrated with the lighting of great fires bonfires, candles, and torches. It was a feast to honor the god Odin, the master of the gods, with the hope that he would command the sun to return. The countries in northern Europe and Scandinavia have very long winters with many hours of darkness during the winter months. After the coming of Christianity, the feast of light became one to celebrate Christ as the light of world and thus the lighting of candles is still a very important part of Danish celebration of Christmas.  Families made their own decorations with whatever they had at home (paper, yarn, straw) and spent many hours before Christmas creating their ornaments. Many of these here are made using the colors of the Danish flag red and white such as a woven heart baskets which can be filled with candy. Notice that the tree is also decorated with Danish flag this is a characteristic shared by most Scandinavian countries. 

England- Victorian

The Christmas tree became popular in England in 1841 when Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, brought a Christmas tree over from Germany and put it in Windsor Castle. The Royal couple were illustrated in a newspaper standing around the Christmas tree with their children, and the tradition of decorating a tree became fashionable.

During the Victorian times, Christmas trees were decorated with candles to remind children of the stars in the sky at the time of the birth of Jesus.  Christmas trees were also decorated with sweets and cakes hung with ribbon. In 1880, Woolworths first sold manufactured Christmas tree ornaments which proved to be very popular. Today, Christmas trees are decorated with tinsel, lights and small ornaments which hang from the branches. Chocolate coins or chocolate shapes are also hung on the Christmas tree.


Estonia, Latvia and Finland are all neighboring countries in northern Europe along the Baltic Sea.  These countries which are geographically close to each other often have decorations that are similar. They not only share similar materials with which to craft decorations, but often also share beliefs and cultural traditions.

The Estonian tree relies heavily on materials found in nature for decoration. Ornaments are made from straw and grain. According to Estonian custom, the first sheaf of rye from harvest time is saved until Christmas.  A few straws are taken from it and thrown against the ceiling to wish for an abundant crop for the coming year. 


In France, the Christmas tree first appeared in Alsace in 1521. The tree, covered in red apples and lights, symbolized the venue of Christ: ‘the light that illuminates the world’. A fir tree is the best choice because it does not lose its leaves during winter. This is a symbol of hope and eternal life.


The first Christmas trees have been credited to the Germans who began the custom in the 8th century. One popular legend says that Protestant Reformer Martin Luther cut down the first Christmas tree and decorated it with candles inspired by the starry skies of the Holy Night in Bethlehem.  Folklore says that on Christmas Eve in Germany, parents hide a pickle deep or ‘Weihnachtsgurke’ in the branches of the Christmas tree. The tree’s pine needles camouflage the green pickle, making it especially hard to find. On Christmas morning, the first child to find the pickle is rewarded. The only problem with that story is that most Germans have never heard of a Christmas pickle.  Can you find our Christmas pickle?

Greece (located in Amboy Bank, 350 George St)

Our Greek tree is as lavishly decorated as the magnificently ornamented Greek Orthodox churches with their glittering gold icons. While Christmas trees are not decorated this way in Greece, the tree uses the beautiful decorative tradition of the church and uses it to make this tree a unique symbol of the Greek culture where Christmas is very much a religious celebration. The custom of a Christmas tree arrived to Greece after World War II when returning soldiers returned to Greece and brought the custom with them. 


Our colorful Hispanic/Latino this tree is a combination of several Latino and Hispanic traditions which reflect the diversity of the community in New Brunswick. The decorations were made by the bilingual kindergarten students from the local Roosevelt School. The most prominent feature of this street is a beautiful dove or ‘paloma’ done as a yarn painting at the top of the tree. You will notice that different colored streamers each representing varieties of corn extend down from the large dove and the small white doves hanging on the tree are part of the legend of how corn came to Mexico and the Americas. 

Israel ‘A Great Miracle Happened Here – Nes Gadol Haya Poh’. 

The eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where according to legend Jews had driven out their oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. The faithful cleaned up the temple and rededicated it by lighting the menorah. They only had consecrated oil to last for one day, but it miraculously lasted for 8. In 2022, Hanukkah, which means dedication in Hebrew, begins on the evening of Sunday, December 18 and ends on the evening of Monday, December 26. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games, and gifts. The first menorah according to the book of Exodus was created by a craftsman named Bezalel following the detailed instructions given by God to Moses.


Italian Christmas customs vary greatly from region to region. In the north, where fir trees are available, Christmas trees are decorated with fresh fruits which are enjoyed by the family when the tree is taken down. In the south, it is the ‘presepio’ or nativity crib which is of major importance. The nativity crib was introduced by Saint Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. It is traditional for the oldest woman in the household to place the Christ child in his straw bed.


Despite not being a culture rooted in Christianity, Japanese people enjoy celebrating Christmas. The ornaments on this tree were made by high school students in Fukui, Japan: one of New Brunswick’s Sister Cities. The decorations are folded origami cranes, fish, fans, bells, and teacups. The kimono, while rarely worn as part of everyday life, is still used for important ceremonies and it remains an important symbol of Japanese culture. These kimonos are made from washi paper, which is not only beautiful, but very durable and is used to make books. 


Traditionally, the celebration of Christmas in Poland begins on the evening of December 24th known as ‘Wigilia. Wigilia is the traditional Christmas Eve vigil supper in Poland. People believe that in the way they spend Christmas Eve is the way the whole year will pass. Therefore, they try to make this day fabulous and warm. Custom dictates that there should be twelve dishes, just like the Twelve Apostles, and that the celebration should start when the first star appears. A free seat at the table is left for relatives or travelers. Poles believe that no one should be alone during the holiday. Therefore, they invite friends or neighbors who have no one to have supper with.  

The partitioning of Poland during the 18th century and later brought influences from several neighboring countries reflecting in their Christmas decorations. The elaborate blown glass ornaments reflect German influence while the cut and folded paper decorations are popular in central and eastern Poland. The Peacocks eye is from Krakow in the South. Notice the very delicate tissue paper Garland and how similar it is to the Garland on the Japanese tree. Under the tree is a ‘crèche’ or nativity from Krakow. 


The Scottish tree is a simply decorated tree. Its only ornaments are ribbons in plaids representing the different clans of Scotland. As a protestant country for most of its post pagan history, Scotland was slow to adopt the customs of tree decorating. It was viewed as frivolous by the church fathers. Even today Christmas trees in Scotland are less glittery than they are in England or America.

Solstice (located in new classroom space)

Some customs that we associate today with the celebration of Christmas began as pre-Christian rituals that accompanied the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, and the on-set of winter. To combat long cold winters with very little daylight, the celebration of the winter solstice was meant to bestow good fortune on families, animals, and crops. 

Ukraine- The Christmas Spider

Though the house is to be cleaned from top to bottom and every speck of dust swept away, any spider web discovered at Christmas time must be left undisturbed throughout the holidays. Spiders and their webs are symbols of good luck that can be found everywhere at Christmas time in Ukraine. They come in the form of Christmas tree ornaments, decorations, or the real thing, if you are lucky. The spider is considered a most Christmassy creature to Ukrainian children, who grew up hearing stories of the spider’s legendary Christmas kindness.

According to legend, a poor woman had no decorations for her tree. A spider who had hidden in her tree to escape the dust mop, watched as the woman prepared for Christmas. As the spider crawled about the tree that night, he left a trail of dusty webs. When the woman awoke on Christmas morning, she found that the dusty webs had turned into shimmering silver.

In another story a spider is credited with giving the Christ Child His first plaything. As Baby Jesus slept that night in the manger, a stable spider wove an intricate web above Him in the rafters. When Baby Jesus woke, the light of dawn made the early morning dew sparkle on the delicate web. This is why we decorate our Christmas Trees with tinsel and garland, and why it is always good to luck to have a spider in your tree.

Christmas Tree Ornaments hand-made by the staff of the Ukrainian History & Educational Center.


The first record of a Christmas tree being displayed in an American home was in the 1830’s by German settlers. Outdoor, community Christmas trees are recorded in use in Pennsylvania by the mid-18th century. In 1846 German Prince Albert and his wife the English Queen Victoria of England publicly embraced the Christmas tree. Their popularity led to the tradition becoming established in England and the United States.

It was in the mid-1800s, that candy canes were hung on Christmas trees for the first time. Back in the day, it was common to hang sweets and baked goods from the festive tree, so the candy canes were a perfect addition.  Christmas trees were adorned with strings of popcorn. The tradition is thought to date back to the 1950s when outdoor trees were decorated with food for birds and wildlife. Today, garlands of popcorn dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts are popular. In the late 19th century Thomas Edison’s business partner Edward Hibbard developed and displayed the first tree lit by electric lights. The modern version of the Christmas tree was complete. Having a brightly lit Christmas tree in our home became an American tradition.

The following 3 trees are located at the Heldrich Hotel, 10 Livingston Ave.

Limerick County, Ireland
The Sister City Program is committed to transcending geographical boundaries and creating lasting bonds with communities around the world. New Brunswick opens its arms to embrace the rich diversity that defines our global family, promoting mutual understanding, cultural exchange, and collaborative initiatives. Limerick City & County Council Limerick is located in the West of Ireland with a population that exceeds 200,000 and is home to the University of Limerick and Vistakom, a division of Johnson and Johnson. Sister Cities programs have included art exhibits; student exchanges, rugby tournaments, exchanges of government officials regarding such issues as recycling and urban renewal.

Flower Carnival Tree; Debrecen, Hungary
Hailing from the picturesque city of Debrecen in the Great Plains of eastern Hungary, this tree serves as a homage to the renowned Debrecen Flower Carnival. An annual tradition since 1966, the carnival unfolds over a week, showcasing a dazzling spectacle of elaborate flower floats and statues crafted from hundreds of thousands of live flowers. The procession through the streets of Debrecen features over 2,000 dancers and musicians, creating a vibrant celebration that encapsulates the city’s rich cultural heritage.

Fukui & Tsuruoka, Japan
Fukui, Japan – In 1867, Fukui City sent Kusakabe Taro, a samurai from Fukui, to New Brunswick to learn English and attend Rutgers, then a Dutch Reformed Church College. He was the first Japanese to be awarded the Phi Beta Kappa, Kusakabe unfortunately died just before graduation in 1870 and is buried in Willow Grove Cemetery, in New Brunswick. students. The Fukui Cultural Ambassador program was established in 2013, allowing a New Brunswick-connected individual to live and work in Fukui for a year.

Tsuruoka, Japan – In 1869, Tsuruoka sent Suburo Takagi, a student to Rutgers College to help another student. Takagi became one of the first members of the Japanese Consulate, serving in San Francisco and New York. Sister City’s programs with Tsuruoka have included looking at health issues and their relationship to becoming a healthy adult – a joint program with Debrecen, Hungary, another sister city of New Brunswick.

The ornaments on this tree were specifically made by Japanese school children for this Festival of Trees satellite exhibit.

The following 4 trees are located in the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center-NBPAC,
11 Livingston Ave.

Pride Tree 

Hungarian Tree

The red, white, and green colors of the nation’s flag are prominent in the decorations of our Hungarian tree.   The felt poinsettia ornaments arrived from New Brunswick’s Sister City of Debrecen.  You will also notice small blue dolls.  The material on these dolls is the traditional Hungarian textile art of blue-dyeing or ‘kékfestő’. Using a wax-resist process similar to batik, white cotton or linen fabric is block-printed with molten wax to form the pattern. Used in Hungary for centuries, this beautiful handicraft is under revival nowadays. The only blueprint museum in Central Eastern Europe can be found in Papa, Hungary. The historical workshop was rebuilt for this purpose and hundreds of kékfestő patterns are exhibited besides a number of tools and machines.

New Brunswick Police Department Tree

New Brunswick Fire Department Tree

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