Treasure Hunt: Christmas and New Year's Trees

MTA man carrying his newly purchased tree at one of the city's yolki bazaars.
Christmas or New Year's tree bazaars are set to open throughout Moscow on Dec. 20. Russian yolki are not expected to cost much more than last year, starting at around 400 rubles a meter. But if you want to get hold of a sought-after fir from Denmark, expect to part with rather more of your money.

Danish trees are particularly popular because their needles remain on the branches for a long time. But not everyone likes them because they are mass-produced, grown quickly and, some say, just don't smell of New Year's.

The modern Western custom of putting up a Christmas tree began in Germany in the 16th century and soon became popular throughout Europe. The tradition was brought to Russia by Peter the Great in the 17th century, but as a New Year's, rather than a Christmas, celebration.

New Year's trees were banned in the Soviet Union as bourgeois and religious, but reintroduced into schools, children's clubs and cinemas in 1935 following a letter by the politician Pavel Postyshev to the Pravda newspaper.

Selling fir trees has become a real business in recent years, and the Moscow government now lays down strict rules to control the bazaars -- the areas must be fenced off, well lit and a price list must be displayed.

There are to be more than 300 yolki bazaars across the city -- plenty of places to get hold of that essential Christmas and New Year's decoration.