Pretty much all cities in Europe have Christmas markets in their main squares, and Tallinn is no exception. But there is something unique about this one: Tallinn claims to be the place where the first Christmas tree was ever erected. How cool is that? 🙂
The legend tells us that as early as 1441, the Brotherhood of the Black Heads, an association of unmarried merchants, used to erect a tree at their brotherhood house and, on the last day of the Christmas celebrations, they would take it out to the main square in Tallinn, dance around it and then burn it. This tradition then spread to other cities and soon enough Christmas trees became popular all over Europe.
There is only one problem with this story: Riga also claims to be the true origin of the Christmas tree. They certainly have a case since during the Middle Age both Tallinn and Riga had a Broderhood of the Black Heads and both were part of the region of Livonia, and without much information about the matter, we will probably never know which of the two cities is the actual birthplace of our beloved Christmas trees.
I find it curious that, even though Estonia is a highly secular country (over half of the population claim to be non-religious), people enjoy celebrating Christmas. Maybe it has to do with the fact that they were not allowed to celebrate it during the Soviet occupation so they now do it as a statement of their independence, or maybe it’s just about spending some time with their families, but it’s common to see a lot of people wandering around the Christmas market with their children and having some food.
Another special feature about this Christmas market is that it stays at the Old Town for a month and a half! In other European cities, the markets are gone after December 23, but in Tallinn it will stay until January 7. This is because there is a large Orthodox community and they celebrate Christmas two weeks later than Lutherans (the other most important religion in Estonia), so the market stays for both dates.
I myself are not very religious but still looove to walk around the market, take a look at the ton of beanies, gloves, scarves, sweaters and handcrafts that they sell and then after feeling like the cold weather is reaching my bones, having a cup of glögi, the Estonian name for spiced hot wine. I cannot tell you how good it feels to have this very slightly alcoholic, warm beverage after spending a couple of hours on the streets. And if you are not afraid to try some new, disgusting-sounding-but actually-delicious traditional Estonian Christmas food, then I suggest you try blood sausage. *vegetarian friends, you may want to skip the next paragraph* 😐
I know that “blood sausage” sounds kinda disgusting, but trust me, it is worth giving it a try. Verivorst (blood sausage) is the traditional Christmas food in Estonia. On its own it doesn’t taste that good, but the trick is to add jelly made from some kind of berry (don’t know exactly which one) on top. Yes, I also know that that may sound even more disgusting than having the blood sausage alone, but trust me, it tastes really good. You can get them at the Christmas market, just look for the verivorst sign; all of the stalls that sell them have a jelly jar so don’t forget to add it to your sausage! I am not sure if it’s made from cow or pork blood so it’s probably better to ask the person selling them if you really want to know.
The Christmas market at the Old Town has already opened and it will remain there until January 7. Opening times are 10:00 to 19:00 and there are some other events you can check out at the market’s webpage (yes, everything in Estonia has its own webpage 🙂 ).
(Very early) Merry Christmas!