Spruce, fir … lobster trap? That’s right, the coastal town of Rockland, Maine has turned a holiday tradition on its head and built a 35-foot tall lobster trap tree. This might the most New England Christmas tradition we’ve ever seen.

By Mary Tomlinson
December 05, 2017
The Rockland, Maine lobster trap tree lit up at night.
Joseph Corrado

In the heart of Maine’s lobster industry sits Rockland, a place that puts a very coastal spin on its town Christmas tree. For 15 years, the New England charmer has transformed 155 unassuming (and fully functioning) lobster traps into (what they say is) the tallest lobster trap tree in the world.

The towering tree is decked in 1/8 mile of holiday lights (2,500 bulbs!) and 1/8 mile of balsam fir garland. But the real maritime touch? The 100+ authentic lobster trap buoys—donated by Maine lobstermen—that fittingly adorn the tree. Every lobsterman’s buoy “ornament” has a unique color scheme and design, making for a bright coastal expression of the holiday.

Buoys donated by lobstermen adorn the Rockland, Maine lobster trap tree.
Joseph Corrado

How the Lobster Tree is Built

The nautical holiday tradition is helmed by Rockland Main Street, Inc., a local non-profit that has a small but dedicated crew that pulls off this holiday dazzler each year. The lobster trap tree’s story begins at Brooks Trap Mill, a lobster trap manufacturer that donates new traps in custom holiday hues (green with a red vent).

A volunteer crew of Rockland residents and local Coast Guards constructs the tree by stacking the traps in concentric circles and securing them with zip ties. The crowning glory? A five-and-a-half foot fiberglass lobster wielding a star-shaped wand.

The five-and-a-half foot fiberglass lobster atop the Rockland, Maine lobster trap tree.
Joseph Corrado

The Spirited Tree Lighting Festival

For such an impressive tree, a little fanfare is appropriate for the tree lighting. Rockland Main Street, Inc. organizes an entire weekend of holiday festivities that draws more than 7,000 people, starting with the lobster tree lighting ceremony on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

Santa attends, of course, having forgone his sleigh for a much more nautical arrival—by Coast Guard boat. A ribbon cutting by Santa and the mayor opens Main Street for the holiday shopping season, and following an afternoon in his workshop next to the tree, Old Saint Nick emerges for the official tree lighting. A pull of a candy cane light switch, and Rockland's holiday season is in full swing.

Related: How to Decorate a Pineapple Christmas Tree

What Happens to the Lobster Traps After Christmas?

On that sad day the lobster tree is disassembled, there is a happy fate for the traps. Because they are fully functioning, they’re raffled off to local lobstermen to use, with raffle proceeds going to the small businesses of Rockland Main Street. Non-lobster industry folks can enter the raffle for a chance to win a cash prize of $2,250—an amount that will surely put a dent in the winner’s Christmas shopping.

Provincetown, Massachusetts Lobster Pot Tree
Courtesy of Popko Family

More Lobster Trap Trees Around the Country

In love with this coastal Christmas tree as much as we are? Check out these other lobster trap Christmas trees around New England, and gaze in holiday wonder at the maritime-inspired craftsmanship.

Gloucester, Massachusetts
What began as a tiny pile of traps now towers over Main Street with a grand view of Gloucester Harbor. Local art non-profit Cape Ann Art Haven provides the buoy decoations, which are painted by local kids and auctioned off in January for Art Haven's annual fundraiser.

Julian and Mary Popko at the Provincetown Lobster Pot Tree
Courtesy of Popko Family

Provincetown, Massachusetts
Provincetown artist and sculptor Julian Popko began building the Lobster Pot Tree in 2004, and though he passed this year, his family continues the tradition. "Many people have written to our Facebook page [Provincetown Lobster Pot Tree], telling us that they use the image of the tree for their holiday cards and that it is the highlight of their season," says April Popko, one of Julian's five daughters. "This really warms our hearts to know how many people's lives are being touched in a positive way, even after dad has moved on." Learn more about Provincetown's heartwarming tradition from April Popko's book, available on Etsy.  

Cape Porpoise, Maine
For 36 years, the citizens of Cape Porpoise have honored the fishing and lobster industry with their 20-foot tall lobster trap tree. A local father and daughter piece it together every year, then deck it out in balsam roping, wreaths, red bows, lights, and a lobster to top it off. 

Barrington, Nova Scotia Lobster Pot Tree
Ken Chetwynd

Barrington, Nova Scotia
Barrington's Festival of Lights includes a 20-foot tall lobster tree made of 220 wire lobster traps. Since 2013, the traditional red buoys decorating the tree now sit alongside buoys donated by families in memory of fishermen lost at sea and fishermen who have since passed.