Since I am a Latvian, this is some interesting information from my roots, I thought I would share. Take a moment to read about The First Christmas Tree.
Finland has Santa Claus. Russia has traditional handmade Christmas ornaments. Germany has Christmas markets. But arguably the most well-known of Christmas traditions -- decorating the Christmas tree -- may have its origin in Latvia. And it's all but unknown.In the past, there have been stories about Martin Luther walking in the woods near Riga and he created the first Christmas Tree. But actually, the Riga tree reference and the Martin Luther Tree reference are two different occurrences.
Riga's First Christmas Tree year 1510
The Martin Luther Tree was not the Riga Tree. In fact, little is known about the original Riga tree other than the fact that it was attended by men wearing black hats, and that after a ceremony, they burnt the tree.
This was a mixture of pagan and Christian custom, as were very many of the customs in Central/Northern Europe at that time.The Martin Luther walk in the forest, believed to actually in Northern Germany and his lighted tree actually occurred several decades later.
In Latvia as in all of northern Europe, many other traditions that we now consider part of Christian worship were begun as a part of pagan activities where people were living their life as they had done for hundreds of years before.
The pagans of northern Europe celebrated the their own winter solstice, known as Yule. Yule was symbolic of the pagan Sun God, Mithras, being born, and was observed on the shortest day of the year. As the Sun God grew and matured, the days became longer and warmer.It was customary to light a candle to encourage Mithras, and the sun, to reappear next year.Huge Yule logs were burned in honor of the sun.
The word Yule itself means wheel, the wheel being a pagan symbol for the sun. Mistletoe was considered a sacred plant, and the custom of kissing under the mistletoe began as a fertility ritual. Holly berries were thought to be a food of the gods.The tree is the one symbol that unites almost all the northern European winter solstices.
Live evergreen trees were often brought into homes during the harsh winters as a reminder to inhabitants that soon their crops would grow again.In all societies, there were people who filled the roles of judge, doctor, diviner, mage, mystic, and clerical scholar - they were the religious intelligentsia of their culture.
These people often used the tree as a religious symbol, holding their sacred ceremonies while surrounding and worshipping huge trees and gathering around a large bonfire.The legend says that the first Riga tree in 1510 was decorated with paper flowers and burnt on the bonfire after the ceremony; most probably, with a toast for the future, with steins held high!
According to Countess Maria Hubert von Staufer of the organization Christmas Archives International based in the England, "Riga is very important in the History of the Christmas Tree". more historical information