Want to cut down a Christmas tree in Estonia? There’s an app for that

We only take trees that need to be removed anyway.

Adam Rang
Adam Rang
Dec 15, 2019 · 6 min read

We’ve just chosen our Christmas tree for our home here in Estonia.

In most parts of the world, choosing a Christmas tree just means popping down to the local shops for either a plastic tree or one that’s already been chopped down by someone else.

Here in Estonia though, we have a better (and very Estonian) option.

In addition to good saunas, there are two things Estonians particularly like: nature and digital services. And quite often, they all work together here.

Estonia’s state forest management centre, known as RMK, has a really cool mobile app to help you explore the Estonian wilderness throughout the year. It works in Estonian, English and Russian.

At Christmas time though, the app has an additional purpose. You can use it to find a Christmas tree in a state forest that you can cut down for yourself.

It includes a map of where to find them, all the advice you need, and how to pay for your one-time tree cutting license.

RMK began inviting Estonians to cut down their own Christmas trees from state forests in 2008. Their main objective is to simply maintain the tradition and encourage Estonians to spend more time in the wilderness. Several state institutions and companies choose this option over shop-bought alternatives and sometimes even see it as a team building exercise.

There are a few sensible rules to protect our wilderness though, which are all explained in the app. Most importantly, you must choose a tree that wouldn’t be able to grow to full height anyway, such as one underneath power cables.

According to Estonia’s Forest Act, you are also allowed to take ornamental branches, such as for a Christmas tree wreath, as long as you do not harm the rest of the tree. Taking just the top off a tree, for example, is prohibited.

The state forests where you can cut down trees are marked in dark green, while private forests (where you can only cut down trees with the permission of the land owner) are marked in light green, and nature reserves (where taking trees is strictly prohibited) are marked in brown. Most helpfully, power lines are marked as blue lines. Your own location is shown on the map too so it’s easy to navigate.

We found our tree near Saku, underneath those power cables marked above. After asking the tree if it would like to come home with us, we cut it down and took it back to Tallinn to be decorated.

I confess that I made one mistake. You must pay for your Christmas tree before cutting it down, not afterwards like I did.

The app lists prices for trees up to 5 metres, which you can pay straight from your phone bill by calling a number listed in the app.

You can pay for trees above 5 metres too, although only by bank transfer. In case you are interested, a tree larger than 20 metres will cost you €640. Our tree was a modest 1.5 metres tall so it cost us €8.

Although this payment is difficult to police, it’s possible that authorities may stop you when carrying a tree and ask to see your proof of payment. And you can’t get away with saying you couldn’t connect to make the payment because even the forests of Estonia tend to have good connectivity.

RMK began inviting Estonians to cut down their own Christmas trees from state forests in 2008. Their main objective is to simply maintain the tradition and encourage Estonians to spend more time in the wilderness. Several state institutions and companies choose this option over shop-bought alternatives and sometimes even see it as a team building exercise.

Watch the full video

You can watch the full video we made about this whole process below here (and don’t forget to subscribe to if you enjoyed it).

…But where’s the sauna?

We usually just write about Estonian saunas on this blog, but there are actually a few similarities between Christmas trees and saunas.

Both traditions are enjoyed around the world, yet rooted in the prehistoric culture of peoples living around the Baltic sea. Believe it or not, the Christmas tree can also be traced back to Estonia.

About 500 years ago, Tallinn joined the Hanseatic League and a lot of German merchants settled here. They saw local Pagans ceremoniously burning a tree during their winter festival and decided to adapt the tradition for themselves. The House of Blackheads in Tallinn erected their own tree in 1441 and then did the same in Riga in 1510.

Admittedly, this story is a little murky. The prehistoric tradition isn’t well recorded and it’s unclear how this adapted version of the tradition evolved into the decorated trees we use at Christmas today.

Estonians and Latvians still both argue each Christmas season that theirs was the first Christmas tree. The Latvians even put up a plaque and a monument to their first Christmas tree, which they insist (incorrectly) was in Latvia. We might be a little biased of course.

The sauna tradition also comes from prerecorded history and has been adapted a lot over the years. For one thing, there’s an app for that too! We can control our modern Estonian saunas by using a HUUM app to switch them on remotely. That’s what we did after choosing our tree so that it was heated for us by the time we got home from the forest.

Thanks for reading

The Estonian Saunas blog is run by Anni and Adam, explorers and exporters of Estonian saunas.

Our global online store will be launching soon, but we export to the UK at and also have two saunas in Estonia that are open to visitors and were created with the best of Estonian design and technology — our and our . We’re also shareholders in , Estonia’s top designer of sauna stoves and heaters, and we’re .

In addition to our blog, you can follow our own adventures exploring and exporting Estonian saunas on , , and . You can also join . Email us at tere@estoniansaunas.com.

Estonian Saunas

We explore Estonian sauna design, technology, & traditions.

Adam Rang

Written by

Adam Rang

Explorer & exporter of Estonian saunas. Previously Chief Evangelist at Estonia’s e-Residency programme.

Estonian Saunas

We explore Estonian sauna design, technology, & traditions.

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