How to Make a Pennsylvania German Cotton Christmas Tree

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Things You'll Need

  • Christmas tree stand

  • Clear or colored Christmas tree lights

  • 2 yards white cotton bunting (broadcloth or flannel)

  • Tape measure or ruler

  • Scissors

  • White glue

  • Glass, vintage or homemade ornaments (optional)

A deciduous tree can be used as a Christmas tree.

The custom of making cotton Christmas trees dates to the early 1800s. At the end of the Christmas holiday season, Pennsylvania Germans, not wanting to waste a beautiful evergreen, stripped off the tree's needles and wrapped each branch in white cotton bunting. This created the effect of a snow-covered tree, which was usable for years.


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The tradition was revived in the 1940s with deciduous trees. Lights were wrapped around their branches and the trees covered with strips of white cotton, creating a soft glow.

Step 1

Cut down a small deciduous tree that will fit in your house. Branches from large trees work well and can be tied together to look like a small tree. Late fall is the perfect time for this task because deciduous tree branches are bare then.

Step 2

Secure the tree in a commercial Christmas tree stand.


Step 3

Wrap the tree's branches with either clear or colored Christmas tree lights. Start wrapping each branch at its end closest to the trunk, working your way out to the tip and back. Continue from branch to branch.

Step 4

Lay cotton bunting on a flat surface, and cut strips that are 1 1/2 inches wide and 6 inches long for the branches. Cut additional strips that are 3 inches wide and 12 inches long for the trunk.

Step 5

Wrap each branch with the 1 1/2-by-6-inch cotton strips starting at the end closest to the trunk and keeping the Christmas tree lights exposed or not covered. As you move toward the branch tips, overlap the edges of the fabric and secure them with white glue.


Step 6

Wrap the trunk using 3-by-12-inch cotton strips. Start wrapping at the tree's base and work upward, securing the wrap's ends with white glue.

Step 7

Decorate the wrapped tree with glass, vintage or homemade ornaments to create a nostalgic effect if desired.


Invite a friend. An extra pair of hands makes this project go much faster