Estonian public and national holidays - midsummer

Introduction to Estonian public and national holidays

In addition to providing language courses as well as information about local public administration and way of life, the programme Settle in Estonia also helps newcomers understand Estonian culture, people, customs and traditions. Estonian society in general is not that different from other European countries. Still, there are some peculiarities here that every foreign national having moved to Estonia might find useful for adapting quickly. Below, we give you an overview of Estonian holidays and festivals.

Which holidays do Estonians celebrate?

Estonian holidays briefly overviewed here are also one of the topics of the basic module of the programme Settle in Estonia. Estonians celebrate some international holidays: Christmas, the New Year, Valentine’s Day, April Fools’ Day, Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. One of the festivals which is becoming more and more popular is Halloween. In addition to international festivals, there is a number of local holidays with a long history that are celebrated in Estonia, for example, the Independence Day, Shrove Tuesday, Easter Sunday, Walpurgis Night, Saint John’s Eve, solstice and equinox days, St Martin’s Day and St Catherine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day

The other name by which Valentine’s Day goes in Estonia is the Friends’ Day. Unlike the international tradition of on romantic relationships, in Estonia, friendship is celebrated on 14 February in addition to romantic love.

The Independence Day

The Independence Day on 24 February is the celebration of the anniversary of proclaiming the sovereignty of the Republic of Estonia on 24 February 1918. At sunrise, the blue, black and white national flag is hoisted on Tall Hermann tower of Toompea Castle, accompanied by the national anthem; speeches are held, and the Estonian Declaration of Independence is recited. All over the country, festive events are organised, the national flag is raised on buildings, and a military parade as well as the President’s reception are held, both of which are broadcast on national TV channels. If you would also like to take part in Independence Day celebrations, we recommend coming to Toompea to watch the flag-raising ceremony at sunrise.

Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday is one of those moveable feasts which fall on different days every year. This is a holiday from the church calendar associated with the beginning of Lent, which precedes Easter. Not many Estonians are religious, and even those who are don’t always follow Lenten fasting rules. This, however, does not prevent anyone from celebrating Shrove Tuesday with a feast. Traditional Shrove Tuesday foods include pea soup and pig’s trotters, but the ultimate bestsellers are buns filled with whipped cream which appear in shops and cafés at least a month before. If the weather is right, and there is snow, Shrove Tuesday customs feature sledging: this is the day when many adults allow themselves to have some childish fun in the snow, too.

What about Easter?

One church fete Estonians value is Easter and Good Friday. As we have already said, Estonians are not exactly the most religious nation, but who would not like to have a day off on Good Friday? The traditional Easter Bunny and the accompanying avalanche of sweets invade Estonian homes just as the candy left over from Christmas gifts has run out.

Midsummer Day is one of the important Estonian Holidays

One of the most important local holidays is Midsummer Day on 24 June. Great festivities are held to celebrate Northern white nights when it never gets completely dark. There are big community parties in cities and villages; people get together with friends, build fires, grill and eat lots of meat and dance until morning. For foreign nationals relocated to Estonia, Midsummer Day is a great opportunity to experience local traditions as publicly organised celebrations welcome anyone. A similar occasion for celebration albeit on a much more modest scale is the Walpurgis Night on 30 April, which also usually marks the beginning of the grilling season.

As far as the ancient folk calendar is concerned, the summer solstice and the winter solstice used to be more important than Midsummer Day and Christmas respectively. Nowadays, the longest and the shortest day of the year are little celebrated compared to other holidays. In any case, one could notice that it doesn’t become entirely dark outside on 20 or 21 June, and, watching the “darkest day of the year” on 21 December crawl by, remember to rejoice over the fact that days will slowly become somewhat longer after the winter solstice.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day

Mother’s Day in May and Father’s Day in November are nice family holidays when children thank their parents. As a rule, parents are invited to see their kids sing and dance at the events held in schools and kindergartens on these days and are given hand-made presents.

St Martin’s Day and St Catherine’s Day can be called rather controversial. They are quite similar to the internationally famous Halloween. As it has been mentioned, Halloween has been gaining popularity in Estonia, somewhat obscuring St Martin’s Day and St Catherine’s Day. Still, it is too early to declare those traditions dead and gone: the customs of St Martin’s Day and St Catherine’s Day have made a comeback in recent years. Estonians are stubborn like that.

Christmas celebrations in Estonia

Christmas celebrations in Estonia are quite similar to those in other countries. There used to be more peculiar Christmas customs in old times, but these ancient traditions have all but disappeared by now. However, to see old Estonian Christmas customs re-enacted, one could plan a visit to the Estonian Open Air Museum in December. And did you know there are certain parts of state-owned forests where you can go to fetch yourself a Christmas tree? To use this option, install the RMK (State Forest Management Centre) app, and you will be able to pay for the tree and easily find locations where cutting fir trees is allowed.

Celebrating Estonian public holidays

Celebrations and holiday traditions in Estonia are generally in no way extreme, but what you should remember is that locals will use any opportunity for a sauna, so it might as well happen that people will end up in the sauna whatever the cause for celebration. If you have friends among Estonians, and they invite you to a Midsummer Day’s party in the countryside, you could be in for a truly memorable experience, including a feast from the grill, a large bonfire, games and dancing, and sauna well into the morning hours. Just keep it in mind that Estonians usually go to sauna naked.