Riga and the Christmas tree

30 Nov 2018
An historical account of the Blackhead’s Guild recorded in 1510 sheds some interesting light on Riga’s claim to Yuletide fame. According to the medieval document, the guildsmen placed a decorated tree on the town square on Christmas day and then set it ablaze at the end of the holiday season. The Blackheads were also notorious drinkers, so the event may well have been rooted in revelry rather than piety. Today, a commemorative marker and approximates the spot on Rātslaukums (Town Hall Square). In recent years the city has been promoting itself as the birthplace of the Christmas tree, to the annoyance of its northern neighbours in Tallinn who produced an ancient document that describes a Christmas tree erected in Tallinn in 1441. The Latvians then unearthed another account of a decorated tree from 1476, 35 years short of the Estonian claim. No matter. Riga’s politicians and marketing gurus have never let the truth impede a good yarn, so they’ve created a shiny representation of this ancient pagan symbol near city hall. You’ll find Christmas trees on Dome Square, Town Hall Square and Līvu Square throughout the holiday season as well as the so-called Trail of Christmas Trees (from 07.12.18 - 13.01.19) which are artists’ interpretations of what these nostalgic symbols would look like if they had their way.


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