Christmas in Estonia

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Celebrating the Christmas Tree in Tartu, Estonia

Tartu, Estonia, is the First Country to Use a Christmas Tree

Snow falling, children singing, and lights shimmering. This is the scene of a Christmas tradition set in the beautiful city of Tartu, Estonia. Three months into my eleven-month stay, I have become familiar enough with the city to know that my expectations, no matter how grandiose, will always be shattered by what Tartu has to offer. This Christmas season has already shown that it will not be any different. Living in the first country to use a Christmas tree, I knew that the traditions would be widely celebrated, but I underestimated the level of grandeur expressed in the celebrations. On the first Sunday of this December the city had its annual celebration of the first Advent, a celebration that cannot be compared with any other that I have ever experienced.

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Tartu Estonia at Christmas

Christmas Comes Alive in Tartu

As I arrived on the scene, the transition from the cold, dark atmosphere behind me to one of warmth and light was enough to make me laugh with excitement. It was like stepping into a bubble of energy and excitement that I can only compare to that of Christmas morning. This transition almost went unobserved, however, due to the grandiosity of the scene before me. Hundreds of people were filling the square. Students, teachers, families, and the occasional parent pulling a child on a sled, all with looks of excitement as this years holiday festivities officially kicked off. The people, however, were not the focus of my attention for very long as my eyes were drawn upward by the enormous Christmas tree, dwarfing everyone around it. The massive tree was adorned with long strands of lights, ornaments, and a glowing star. Along with the traditional decorations, wish lists from the city’s children hang from the lower branches for all to read. Following the lights up the tree, my eyes were drawn to the strands of lights hanging above our heads. Stretched from rooftop to rooftop, these blue icicle lights gave me the sense of a ceiling — adding to the feeling of stepping into a Christmas snow globe. To complete the illusion, a large, singular chandelier was suspended in the air, illuminating all.

Light, Snowflakes and Estonia

Once the square was filled, the mayor of Tartu began the celebration by welcoming us all, in the native language that I am trying so hard to learn. Even though his words were wasted on me, my experience was not dampened a bit. Shorty after the mayor welcomed us, there were choirs of children that sang beautifully, and although I couldn’t understand the lyrics, the sound was wonderfully soothing and perfectly in tune with my surroundings. Just as the children began, as if on command, snow started gently falling. The snowflakes shined brightly from all of the surrounding lights, giving the sky a glittering effect. It was the final touch that completed the snow globe that I was standing in. The atmosphere could not have been more perfect for the occasion. Hundreds of people crowded together so tightly that some were even climbing the famous kissing students fountain to have a better view, but all were still smiling and laughing. Students and teachers, frustrated from the end of the semester workload, were carefree and laughing. Families drew together. Couples held each other tightly. In all of my years in the United States I had never experienced a Christmas season quite as powerful as this. I had traveled across the world to live and study in this place, and if I had forgotten why, I was instantly reminded.

Written by: Drew Smith

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