The first documented use of a tree in a winter Christmas celebration was in a couple of different locations in Northern Europe including Estonia and Latvia.

According to legend, the tradition began on Christmas Eve in 1510 when a bunch of rowdy merchants brought a large pine tree to Riga’s Blackheads’ House – a clubhouse for unmarried merchants – and covered it with flowers.

Whether the legend is true or not, Rigaeans enjoy playing along with it, and throughout the city there are a variety of artistic interpretations on the Christmas tree.

There is also a lot of art around Riga that celebrates not just Christmas trees, but winter, in general, which isn’t very strange when you consider Latvia’s pagan history and the fact that Christmas is a mixture of pagan and Christian customs.

As I walked around Riga admiring these winter-themed art installations, it seemed the art provided a contrast – a certain “lightness” – to the cold, dark winter days. Since the winter solstice is the celebration of the return of the light, maybe that was precisely the point.