The Christmas season is celebrated in different ways around the world, varying by country and region. However, there is one thing that they all have in common and that is having a Christmas tree in the town square. But have you ever wondered where does this practice come from?
It is a widely held beilef that the Christmas tree originated in Germany during the 1500s, but its use in yuletide celebrations dates back even further than this, to 1441 in fact, in Estonia, its capital Tallinn on the Raekoja platz. This tradition began by the ‘Brotherhood of Black Heads’, a group of unmarried merchants and ship captains who sang and danced around the tree all night. On the last evening of the celebrations the brotherhood carried the tree into the middle of the town square for everyone to enjoy it and later it would be set on fire.
The old town in Tallinn is a world of its own, completely different than the rest of the city. It’s surrounded by medieval walls and towers and within the old town each corner has a story to tell.
One of the most interesting stories is about the origins and meaning of the name Tallinn. Although it is usually thought to be derived from Tallide-linn (meaning the City of Stables) or “Taani-linn(a)” (meaning “Danish-castle/town), the legend is far more interesting. The place where the city is located now, was a love nest of Linda and Kalev, two young people who were madly in love. One day Kalev went to battle. Linda was waiting for him long time and after hearing about his death she cried a lake of tears and brought stones to the grave which made the Toompea hill, where the city center of Tallinn is.
Tallinn is also known for scary legends. One of them is the one about the dragon that lived under the city who threatened to dry out all the wells in the city unless the people dropped an animal down the well every night. They didn’t have a choice, so every night a cat would be thrown down the shaft.
Another legend is about a special room in one of Tallinn’s buildings on Rataskaevu Street. There lived an owner of a hotel who one day after his bankrupcy wanted to commit a suicide, but a few moments before taking his life he was interrupted by a knock on the door.
A stranger wanted to rent the room in the hotel and have a party for which he would pay huge amount of money, but only on one condition: noone to eavesdrop during the party. Guests were coming, music was loud, the building was shaking from all the dancing and partying… The owner was very intrigued what is happening behind the closed doors and even though they had an agreement, he was too curious so he peeped through the key hole.
According to a legend, the owner saw the Devil’s wedding and the Devil had to seal the room so noone ever enters it. Nowadays on Rataskaevu street number 16 we can see the window covering the room where the Devil’s wedding allegedly took place.
The Christmas market in Tallinn is located on Raekoja platz, where you will find is Estonia’s most famous Christmas tree, surrounded by little huts selling their wares. The stalls offer local products made of wool, hand knitted clothes and hats, ceramics and decorations. After the shopping you can indulge yourself with the local food such as roasted pork, blood sausages, hot soups, stir-fries, traditional Christmas gingerbread, marzipan cookies, mulled wine etc. For more information visit www.ChristmasMarket.ee
WHERE TO EAT
While you are at the Town Hall, don’t miss the medieval restaurant Tristan & Isolde, which is located on the first floor. Its a quirky small place is lighted up by a few candles. On the entrance you are greeted by a lady dressed in traditional medieval clothes serving you the day’s special. There is no menu, you can either choose from the soup they serve or some sweet pastries, usually fruit pies. The food is served in simple ceramic bowls and you sit on wooden tables and chairs. It’s really a unique experience.
Address: Raekoja Plats, 1, Tallinn, Estonia
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Another thing you won’t want to miss in Tallinn is the Russian Orthodox Church, which is quite impressive. This church is a great example of powerful Czarist Empire, comprising many cupolas, powerful bells, three icon walls and several statues of the saints, beautiful mosaics and stained glass windows.
Address: Lossi plats 10, Tallinn
After you have been to all of the above, it’s time to relax and enjoy the sights at Kadriorg park and palace, complex created by czar Peter the Great for his beloved wife Catharine I. Though it’s only a few minutes’ walk from the centre, this quiet area is a secluded neighbourhood made up of large areas of forested park, ponds, little paths and statues.
Address: A. Weizenbergi tn 37, Tallinn