Have you thought about your Christmas tree yet? We will be getting ours next week and we are delighted to be sponsoring the tree in St James Square this year – which will be lit for the Very Merry Muswell event on t ...
Have you thought about your Christmas tree yet? We will be getting ours next week and we are delighted to be sponsoring the tree in St James Square this year – which will be lit for the Very Merry Muswell event on the 9th December. Talking of Christmas trees – did you know there is a dispute between Tallinn, in Estonia, and Riga, in Latvia, as to who had the first ever documented tree?
Tallinn (seen above complete with Christmas market) says its tree was documented in 1441,
while the paper trail for Riga goes back to 1510. Given that Riga’s is later than Tallin’s I would have thought the answer was obvious – so there must be some doubt about the documents.
Both trees were put up by the ‘Brotherhood of Blackheads’ which was an association of local unmarried merchants, ship owners, and foreigners in Livonia (what is now Estonia and Latvia), and is still going strong in Hamburg. The exact origin of the term blackhead is unknown. Their patron saint is the black Egyptian Christian Saint Maurice whose head is also depicted on the Brotherhood’s coat of arms Whether the patron saint was chosen because of the name, or whether the saint precedes the name remains unclear – but I digress.
Little is known about either tree apart from that they were put in the town square, were danced around by the Brotherhood of Blackheads and were then set on fire. This is like the custom of the Yule log. The word used for the ‘tree’ could also mean a mast or pole, tree might have been like a ‘Paradise Tree’ or a tree-shaped wooden candelabra rather than a ‘real’ tree (the one above is from Estonia and is rather grand I think).
Someone has spotted the first Christmas tree in this engraving – just outside the House of Blackheads.
In 1584, the historian Balthasar Russow wrote about a tradition, in Riga, of a decorated fir tree in the market square where the young men “went with a flock of maidens and women, first sang and danced there and then set the tree aflame”. And today, that spot is marked by a plaque.
The first person to bring a Christmas Tree into a house, in the way we know it today, may have been the 16th century German preacher Martin Luther. As it happens, we have been celebrating the 500th anniversary of his famous act of pinning a list of protests about the Catholic Church to his church door – which led to Protestantism. Back to our story; it is said that, one night before Christmas, he was walking through the forest and looked up to see the stars shining through the tree branches. It was so beautiful, that he went home and told his children that it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas.
The custom of having Christmas trees could well have travelled along the Baltic sea, from Latvia to Germany and eventually was popularised in Britain by Queen Victoria’s German husband – Prince Albert.
That’s one version of the story anyway – and we enjoy the tradition, however it may have come about.