Latvian govt invites all to cut down a free Christmas tree

A man wearing a Santa Claus hat cuts down a Christmas tree in a forest in Ozolnieki, Latvia on December 24, 2019.

Just in time for Christmas, the Latvian government has invited all to head to the forest to cut down their own tree, in an annual tradition spanning a quarter of a century.

The Baltic state and neighbouring Estonia also claim to have originated the decorated holiday tree, a local pagan practice adopted and propagated by German traders living in what was then known as Livonia in the 15th century.

"Everyone is invited to grab an axe and cut down one fir tree of up to three metres (10 feet) in height and a stem diameter of no more than 12 centimetres and bring it home," the government-owned forest management and logging company Latvian State Forests said on its website.

Latvians are encouraged to pick firs located beneath power lines, in ditches, too close to rural roads or in other places that will require them to be felled anyway.

"However, we remind you that trees in protected, restricted, newly-planted or privately-owned forest areas must not be touched," Latvian State Forests added.

Riga resident Aigars Krumins, a father of three, takes his children to the forest every year to nab their own tree.

"I'm very fond of this tradition... Our family could easily buy a fir, but getting it yourself -- walking through the forest with an axe in hand, pulling the downed tree out of the woods -- it's just a better feeling," the 47-year-old told AFP.

Latvia's state-owned forests span 1.5 million hectares. The forest management company planted more than 26 million new trees in 2019 alone.

Forests, marshes and moors made up 27 percent of Latvia's territory in 1935. That figure has since doubled to 57 percent, almost half of which is public property.