The Bay's crab basket Christmas trees, like this one in Kent Narrows, bring holiday magic to those of all ages. Photo: Kent Narrows Development Foundation

A Crab Basket Christmas: Popular Bay Tradition Grows

December may be the month for mistletoe and holly, but it’s also time to raise the crab basket tree, that uniquely Chesapeake tradition that celebrates the season, Bay culture and the men and women who make their living on its waters. Year by year, the crab basket tree trend grows, with seven different towns each now displaying its own version.

Depending on who you ask, the tradition of the crab basket Christmas tree began in 2013 in Cambridge, Md. That year a “tree” was made from 200 bushel baskets and decorated with crab buoys as ornaments. The tradition continues to this day. And when it’s taken down in January, those baskets go back to work when crab season begins. 

For other towns and watermen’s associations, the process begins in October and November, long before the building and lighting of the trees. It’s a whole community effort, involving schools, community organizations and family members whose painted basket designs honor the lives of past, active and deceased watermen. In Queen Anne’s County, Michael Green, son of the late Rudolph “Bootie” Green, describes it as deeply moving.

My dad worked 50 years on the water. It’s a honor to me and my family to see him recognized this way.”

In Talbot County, the Watermen’s Association honored the late Aaron Correa, a crabber and oysterman who died last year at 43, having served on both Tilghman Island and St. Michaels Volunteer Fire Departments.

While many of the crab basket trees have been ceremonially lit for the first time, St. Michaels will officially light its tree this Saturday, Dec. 10 at 5:30 p.m. as part of its Christmas in St. Michaels festivities.

Rock Hall, inspired by the Cambridge tree, honors its own community’s Bay heritage. In Chesapeake City,  the crab pot tree glows green until January, when white lights are switched on for Winter Lights, Cecil Nights that runs until February. And in Crisfield the city honors its heritage as  the “Seafood Capital of the World” building a tree from lighted crab pots.

On the Western Shore, Deale lit its 9th annual crab basket tree, organized by the Anne Arundel Watermen’s Association and Southern Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce. It boasts 126 baskets this year.

Add these displays to your list of things to see by the Bay for the holidays; most remain standing into the New Year. Take a trip over the river (and sometimes through the woods) to experience this uniquely Chesapeake expression of the “most wonderful time of the year.”

The full list of crab basket locations is below:

-Chesapeake City, Md. at Bohemia Avenue

-Rock Hall, Md. on Main Street

-Queen Anne’s County Watermen’s Association at 3032 Kent Narrows Way (near the Maryland Watermen’s Monument)

-Cambridge, Md. at Gay and Race Streets

-Talbot County Watermen’s Association on Tilghman Island at Tilghman Wharf

-Talbot County Watermen’s Association in St. Michaels at Kastel Brothers, 1106 S. Talbot St.

-Crisfield, Md. at the City Parking Lot

-Deale, Md. at 5801 Deale Churchton Rd.

-Niambi Davis