Old and new traditions
The holidays are truly a magical time in Estonia. This season gives you a glimpse into the old peasant traditions associated with this time of year. According to the Estonian folk calendar, the Christmas season begins on December 21, with St. Thomas Day, and ends on January 6, The Epiphany. The Christmas season was traditionally celebrated from December 25-27, and the most important celebration was Christmas Eve, December 24. This still continues today.
The word Jõulud, meaning Christmas in Estonian, comes from the old Scandinavian word Jul. The association of Christmas with Jesus Christ is relatively recent. Christmas marked the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and the longest night. It reflected the customs and traditions of the peasants, where certain tasks had to be performed during this period, and other tasks were banned. For example, milling, spinning, and quilling were banned, as it was thought that they were too noisy and would disturb the “good spirits.”
Pigs were slaughtered and homemade ale and mead were brewed. The pork was served as a roast with sauerkraut. Blood sausages and sült (headcheese) were prepared, and bread was made. These culinary traditions still continue today. Christmas straw would be brought into the house, and Christmas crowns made.
The Christmas tree is also a recent tradition, introduced by the Baltic German nobility in the middle of the 19th century. The manor house lords would throw Christmas parties for the servants and their families. The tree would be decorated with toys, candies, and candles.
During the Soviet Period, Christmas was banned. New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day were the only official holidays during this period. However, Christmas continued to be celebrated unofficially with family meals in the home on Christmas Eve, and the lighting of candles on the graves of family members. At the end of the Soviet period, Christmas trees began to appear in homes once again.
On December 24, the President of Estonia declares peace, a 350-year-old tradition that still continues today.