Brussels learns about the legend of the first decorated Christmas tree

On 8th January, the exhibition - "The Story of Riga's Christmas Tree" - which tells of the legend about the first ever decorated Christmas tree and the festival inspired by it, was unveiled in the European Parliament building, in Brussels. It is a retrospective photograph exhibition, featuring a selection of the best pieces designed and created by Latvia's artists and designers over nine years of the landscape object festival "The way through the Christmas trees".

The author of the exhibition idea is Guntars Kambars, Head of the City Festival Coordination Unit, Riga City Council’s Department of Education, Culture and Sports; the artist Visvaldis Asaris created the exhibition's design and the author of the texts is design expert Dzintra Purviņa. The photographs displayed in the exhibition are the work of Juris Kalniņš and Imants Prēdelis.

The exhibition “The story of Riga's Christmas tree” collates the works of artists and designers that differ in content and style, revealing both the diversity of ideas and different artistic methods, while referring to Latvian craft and cultural heritage, its ethnography, and highlighting the beauty and attractiveness of Latvia's natural materials. The works chosen for the exhibition highlight both classical traditions in landscape art and experimental solutions, interactivity, and sparkling humour and irony. Some of the landscape objects also fulfil a social function and different groups of society were involved in the process of their creation.

Although historians have differing opinions about the first known decorated Christmas tree, one of the oldest legends does in fact herald that the first Christmas tree was decorated in Riga, in 1510. The State Archives of Latvia stores the historical documents of the House of the Blackheads which contains a description of the celebration of the ancient festival of Fastelavn (Shrovetide) in Riga Town Hall Square. The intriguing tale inspired the establishing of a new tradition in the capital of Latvia in 2010 - the landscape object festival "The way through the Christmas trees".

The festival's aim is to inspire creativity in the field of landscape art, involving professionals and the wider society. The festival provides an opportunity for urban artists, designers, students of the Art Academy of Latvia to create pieces, as well as to involve entrepreneurs as supporters.  Based on the ancient Christmas tree legend, contemporary artists are invited to interpret the story of the evergreen tree through landscape art objects in new, experimental shapes, materials and styles. Special attention is given to lighting designs in the landscape objects.

From December, for over a month the festival becomes a unique, grand scale joint exhibition.  By using the festival route map, onlookers are invited to walk along the Christmas tree way especially during the dark hours when the street lights switch on. In honour of the historic event of the first decorated Christmas tree, in 2003, a symbolic sign – a decorative plaque - was installed on the cobblestones of Riga Town Hall Square, which was supplemented in 2017 by the landscape object “Christmas tree”.

Currently, the festival is still the only urban art and landscape design festival in Europe dedicated to the theme of Christmas. Since the festival began, a total of over 200 original art and landscape design works have been created.  Several of the festival's objects have also been exhibited in the capital cities of Latvia's neighbouring states - in Tallinn and Vilnius.  The festival has also been noticed and reported on by the media of Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and other countries, recognising it as one of the most unique events in Europe worth a visit.

The author of the festival's concept, Guntars Kambars, Head of the City Festival Coordination Unit, Riga City Council’s Department of Education, Culture and Sports, says: "Over the nine years since it first began, the festival has become a familiar symbol of Riga inviting us to think creatively and appreciate the environment which we live in by looking at it from a different perspective.  In this festival, the process and the results are of equal significance".

The festival "The way through the Christmas trees” and the exhibition "The story of Riga's Christmas tree”, are organised by Riga City Council's Department of Education, Culture and Sport.