Latvia and Estonia – Two of the three nations that make up the Baltics – don’t have a ton to hang their hats on when it comes to international notoriety. So, it’s understandable if the two are battling it out over who can claim to be the home of the decorated Christmas tree.
Both countries think they have a sturdy stump to stand on. In honor of the 500th anniversary of what officials believe to be the first tree, Latvians in 2010 erected a permanent Christmas tree sculpture in Riga made of metallic mirrors. The sculpture proclaims Riga as the “Capital of the Decorated Christmas Tree”.
Estonians, however, are singing a different carol, where historians say the first Christmas tree was seen in 1441, almost 70 years ahead of its neighbor.
This is more than just harmless bickering over which nation started decorating Christmas trees first. Holding the status as the tradition’s motherland is one of the meaningful draws for tourists at the coldest and darkest time of year in Northern Europe.
This year, for instance, the Live Riga tourist agency this year sponsored a Christmas Tree Trail of 25 stylized trees designed by artists and placed in various sites and neighborhoods to light up the dark and snowless parks and squares. One tree looks like an unfolded Rubik’s cube, some others resemble giant snowflakes. Yet another tree by the National Opera is surrounded by mannequins in sunglasses who look like The Men in Black.