The Christmas Tree scandal!

The Christmas Tree scandal!
08 December 2023

You may think Christmas is a time for people to come together, to put aside their differences and celebrate. But, no! As Christmas approaches here in the Baltics, the annual battle of notoriety commences: who decorated the first Christmas tree?

The weather has officially turned here in Riga. A scattering of heavy snow has settled upon the rooftops of the Old Town. Take a stroll through the narrow cobblestone streets of the old town and you’ll find souvenir stalls popping up on every street corner and Christmas markets in full swing. As you head towards the iconic House of the Blackheads, not far from the Museum of Occupation, you’ll find yourself standing on a plaque set into the cobblestone pavement. This is the place where, according to Latvian legend, the first Christmas tree was decorated in 1510. 

If you’re fortunate enough to be in Riga in December, this is the spot where you’ll be greeted by the huge annual Christmas tree, which overlooks the bustling Christmas markets and souvenir shops packed with tourists. It is believed that the tree was originally decorated with brightly coloured fabric ribbons and paper shapes, as well as straw and dried flowers. In a nod to pagan traditions of historic Latvia, after the celebrations, the tree would be burnt to mark the end of winter and to welcome spring as the season of rebirth. The tree itself was decorated by the Brotherhood of the Blackheads, an organisation with links throughout the Baltic states. 

Now, here is the controversy: the Brotherhood also had a chapter in Tallinn, Estonia, and Estonians are adamant that it was there that the first tree appeared. Without any concrete evidence, the mystery remains unsolved and it may even be that neither country was home to the birth of the Christmas Tree!



Darcie Peters, a student at Liden and Denz. 

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