6 January – Epiphany
Epiphany is the last day of the beautiful Christmas season, commemorating the visit of the three Magi from the East to the Baby Jesus. This is why some people impersonating the three kings used to visit homes, singing. This is when the holiday season ends and everyday work must be done again. It is a joyful day for children who are at last allowed to eat up edible Christmas tree decorations: candies, apples and gingerbreads. Today the tree absolutely has to be taken out, and the room must be cleaned from fir tree needles.
13 January – Saint Canute’s Day
If you happen to live on Estonian islands or coast, it is only on this date that the Christmas period ends. This is a good day to spend twiddling your thumbs, pay a visit to your friends and have a drink or two of beer or small beer.
14 January – Turn of the Winter Day
This is the day when winter reaches its peak, marking its turn for the spring. Try to estimate whether you still have energy left for the other half of the winter and start making summer holiday plans.
17 January – Saint Anthony’s Day
If there is at least so much sunlight on this day that a man can see the horses back to get on it (or the car to get into), the summer should not lack good weather. It is good time for having your relatives over, and the festive dinner could contain pork, because pigs were especially favoured on St Anthony’s Day.
25 January – Saint Paul’s Day
The weather on St Paul’s Day foretells summer weather: if it is sunny, you can safely plan to spend your summer holiday exploring beautiful Estonian nature, but if it snows or rains, it’s about time you started stocking on books to read on rainy summer days or putting money aside to fly away to the south.
2 February – Candlemas Day
Ladies, please keep in mind that this is your day! It is men’s duty to do all women’s household chores, and women may leisurely use the time to go to a friend’s place or a café and have a drink. Sweet red drink will make sure your cheeks stay nicely pink for the whole year ahead. That should be more than enough to make up to men for this household day!
9 February – ‘Bone Ache Day’
This is the day to refrain from working and to put off any activity that strains your joints and bones, including sports and dancing. That will guarantee you won’t have to fear bone or joint aches in the nearest future. You can sleep a little longer in the morning on ‘Bone Ache Day’, but try not to be late for work or studies!
11 February – Saint Blaise’s Day
Setos used to celebrate St Blaise Day like Maslenitsa, with a baba cake festival. If there is at least some Seto blood in your veins, you should know this is the day for good food, drink, singing and dancing.
22 February – Saint Peter’s Day (Winter Saint Peter’s Day, Peter’s Clanking Day)
Winter Saint Peter’s Day was most honoured in Lääne County and on Hiiumaa, where it was considered to be the festival of the beginning of spring. People would go around clanking chains to scare away snakes and wild animals for the summer. If you want to walk barefoot in high grass in summer, you can find something bigger to clank it for a while in your yard.
24 February – Saint Matthias’ Day
Saint Matthias’ Day is when a lot can be done to prevent snakes and insects from bothering you in summer. Try not to darn or sew, if you can, to make sure that no snake bites you in summer. In addition, to keep annoying insects away without using repellents, make a fly out of straw or anything you have at hand, tie a string to it and bring it to the neighbour’s door: this is the way to get rid of buzzing summer nuisance. But watch out so that no-one leaves a similar fly at your door, or insects will give you no peace in summer whatsoever.
5 March – Shrovetide
Shrovetide Tuesday is a unique opportunity to make sure you will have a nice year. To do that, you must remember three things: 1) sledging, which foretells good flax growth (read ‘wealth and success’); 2) eating pig trotters, which guarantees strong health like pigs have (read ‘your own stomach will be full’) and you can use the bones to make great spinners; 3) slinging a straw doll or cloth ball into the forest or onto another man’s land for good flax, grain harvest and cattle (read ‘carefree life’). Moreover, this is the only day when old maids can propose men, so use your opportunity!
6 March – Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday is the opposite of Shrovetide (Shrove Tuesday). On this day it is forbidden to comb your hair, shear sheep and tackle horses up; otherwise you or the animals can get dandruff or scald. So you have to go to work with shaggy hair today. However, a more important thing to do on Ash Wednesday is to get up early and go to bed early to prevent the danger of overworking during this year. If you have sinned, this is the time to confess, which has resulted in a folk saying ‘sprinkle ashes upon your head’ i.e. regret what you have done!
9 March – Bird Day
According to the beliefs widespread in Setomaa this is the day when birds of passage start their journey home from the south. You too should start preparing for the return of birds. In order to wake up to pleasant bird songs in spring, make a nest box today and attach it to the suitable tree.
17 March – Saint Gertrude Day (or Snake Movement Day)
Saint Gertrude’s Day is one of spring holidays when you should start preparing for the summer and repel snakes and insects. To make sure you won’t have to fear annoying and dangerous bites when it gets warm, search your grandmother’s closet for a hank of yarn and roll it into a ball. You will then kill two birds with one stone: have a nice ball of yarn to mend woollen socks with and guarantee that snakes will roll into a ball in summer and will not bite people.
21 March – Saint Benedict’s Day
Saint Benedict’s Day is a holiday which dates so far back that not much can be recalled nowadays. What is known is the belief common for Harju County: Saint Benedict’s Day was when snakes woke up from winter sleep, so you had better stay away from the woods today. It is also time keen fishermen checked if their fishing permits are in order because the great spring fishing season is about to start. And coastal villagers must keep quiet: noise can scare off the fish, and it will go offshore!
25 March – Annunciation
Ladies, after almost two months it is your holiday again! On this day you do not have to and even are not allowed to do any household chores. Put on white clothes and go to the café. If you see a man there, tell him boldly that it is his duty to buy a red drink for each woman in the café today. If you cannot or do not want to go, you can stay at home and make pancakes.
1 April – Day for Turning out the Cattle
It could have snowed or hailed on this day, but cattle had to be brought outside even if for a while to guarantee that it would remain in good health. Various magical rituals were also traditionally used to attract good luck: drawing crosses on farm animals, fuming them with Enchanter’s nightshade, reading spells, ritual sprinkling. But if you do not keep cattle, dress for the weather and go for a walk alone, with friends of with your pet. Fresh air will guarantee good health in any case. Nowadays 1 April is naturally associated with jokes, so we wish you inspiration and great fun playing tricks!
14 April – Palm Sunday, a movable holiday (on the Sunday before Easter)
Nowadays Palm Sundays marks the beginning of the Holy Week. People used to go to church on this day, and teenagers would have their first Holy Communion after Confirmation. On this day one had to wake up early and lash those who still sleep with willow branches to make sure that the household is hard-working. And the following tip is for girls who try to embellish themselves with creams and powders: leave willow branches to soak in water several days in advance and use it to wash your face on the morning of Palm Sunday. You won’t believe how beautiful it will make your face!
14 April – Ploughing Day
On Ploughing Day one had to wake up as early as possible and start checking that all the farming equipment was in working order and ready for use. Then a load of manure was taken to the field to ensure soil fertility and the first furrow of the spring was ploughed. If you have no farming equipment to see to, it is about time you checked if you bicycle id in working order. And if you cannot imagine your life without a car, please at least remember that the period when the use of winter tyres is allowed will soon be over.
19 April – Good Friday
In the Christian world Good Friday marks the death of Jesus Christ. It was also an important holiday for Estonians in the days of old. It was said that Good Friday was such a great holy day, that kids should not be allowed to play outdoors. Taboos had to be observed strictly: it was forbidden to work, argue, get married and make visits. You should follow these rules and respect the sacredness of this day too.
21 April – Easter
Estonian names for the Easter day include ‘meat feast’, ‘spring holiday’, ‘egg holiday’ and ‘swing holiday’, all of which imply that this day has been rich in various traditions. The ‘meat feast’ name refers to the end of Lent and the fact that people could eat meat again. Easter is a Christian day of great joy commemorating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but Estonians have also celebrated it as a spring holiday because by this time days have become longer, there is more air and light, and the nature is blooming. Traditional spring swinging also started at Easter: young men of the village built swings in a beautiful place, and girls who wanted to swing had to bring ribbons, butter, eggs and other treats to the builders. On this day it is a good idea to go for a walk, breath fresh air and admire the nature. You absolutely need to find swings of some sort to properly bless the swinging season.
23 April – Saint George’s Day
Saint George’s Day is the most important holiday related to farming and cattle herding. In the times past, Estonians would perform various rituals on this day to ensure cattle’s good health. To repel wild animals, especially wolves, bonfires were lit during the night. Saint George’s Day was also when great moving would be undertaken: children were brought home from school and farmhands and maids hired for the summer moved in. Nowadays we probably should not hope that schools will let students stay at home. Nevertheless you could take an evening off, go for a walk in the nature, light a bonfire (in a specially marked place!) and drink hot tea. Each one of us could also plant a tree because trees planted on Saint George’s Day tend to grow well.
25 April – Mark the Evangelist’s day
The Estonian name for this day refers to church calendar: it is the holiday commemorating Mark the Evangelist. He was the saint people prayed to when they wanted protection from sudden death. On this day our ancestors foretold weather and crop yield. Farm animals were given some rest, and people watched the nature to set the timeframe for various farm works.
Those who do not care about farming, could consider the following for planning their heating costs: if it is warm in the morning, autumn will be long and warm, but if it is cold in the night, there will be 40 more days of cold.
1 May – Walpurgis Night
Having occupied rather a modest place in the lives of our ancestors, Walpurgis Night has mainly been associated with two activities: sowing peas and making bonfires. However, unlike Germanic nations, Estonians gathered around bonfires just to have fun and get acquainted with people of their age and not to repel witchcraft and evil.
As 1 May is nowadays a national and bank holiday, you have a perfect opportunity to go to the countryside and sow peas and beans on your vegetable plot. They will grow to be delicious in the summer!
If you do not have a plot of land, get your friends together, find a designated trekking path and enjoy the nature. Remember that bonfires can only be lit in specially marked places!
9 May – Saint Nicholas’ Day
There are actually two Saint Nicholas’ days: one in spring and another in autumn. According to a legend, Saint Nicholas performed such a great good deed that he was considered worth commemorating twice a year.
The spring Saint Nicholas’ Day was well-known in the south-east of Estonia. People would then go to church, light a candle for Saint Nicholas so that he would protect crops from cold. Setos also sowed wheat, oats and peas on this day and planted onions, which was supposed to ensure fair yield.
What you should do is pay attention to the weather. Then you can plan autumn chores. If it is cold, the autumn will be long and warm, and if it is warm and rainy, the autumn will be short and cold (so you had better finish autumn chores quickly and then you can go home and crawl under a warm blanket).
11 May – Hail and Ice Day
Hail and Ice Day is one of numerous Seto holidays. Folk wisdom says that once it hailed heavily in May. To make sure that there will be no more hail in spring to beat crops and flax to the ground, a decision was made to take a break from farm works every year in May, two days after Saint Nicholas’ day.
Similarly, you have to consider whether working at full throttle on this day will actually do more good than harm. If you take a break today, you might be able to do more tomorrow.
25 May – Saint Urban’s Day
We do not know much about Saint Urban’s Day. One thing we do know is that it was considered to be a good day for sowing flax and oats.
What is of interest to us is the Estonians’ old belief that there would be no night chill after Saint Urban’s day. Let’s see about that!
31 May – Ascension, 40 days after Easter, Thursday
In church calendar, Ascension commemorates the Ascension of Jesus to heaven. However, it was a very important day for our ancestors: though various taboos and rituals they showed reverence towards everything that grows on earth. Farm works, hunting and fishing were forbidden. In general terms, it was sensible to refrain from doing any work.
You too should take a break from work even if for an hour if you cannot rest for the whole day. Take some time to be quiet. Wonderful ideas can emerge as the result!
To our ancestors Pentecost mainly meant the beginning of summer and, unlike many other holidays, it was rather associated with having fun on the swings, going to dancing parties and the beginning of the courting period than work. One of the necessary elements of Pentecost was bringing a birch tree indoors or taking one to the door of your loved one. If you do not feel like taking a birch tree to your girlfriend’s place today (or it will be complicated to fit into her small flat), a bunch of pretty wild flowers will certainly make her feel good!
15 June – Saint Vitus Day
There is not much information about Saint Vitus Day. A saying goes that it was not worth planting cabbage after this day, but sowing buckwheat was recommended.
Holiday-makers, please note: sunny weather on Saint Vitus Day does not mean good luck; it means that summer will be poor.
21 June - summer solstice
While cabbage planting had to be completed before Saint Vitus Day, summer solstice was the latest day to do it otherwise there will not be anything to take from the vegetable patch in autumn.
Judging by our ancestors’ sayings, it seems that because no sowing was allowed anymore, people would sit down on the porch and start foretelling weather.
Maybe we should take some observations into account too so that we are not that dependent on weather forecasters: if a nightingale keeps singing late in the evening, autumn will come early and coldish; and if some sunlight can be seen, good hay making weather is to be expected.
23 June – Saint John’s Eve
The best description of Saint John’s Day is a Viru County saying: Saint John’s Day is a day of beauty and happiness for all and the day set for remembering Saint John the wise. All animals and people alike had to be blessed with light. And a huge bonfire had to be made.
So we can give no other advice but for you to enjoy the longest and lightest night of the year next to the fire!
There is enough space for everyone around the big bonfires of Saint John’s Eve at the Open Air Museum!
Besides, there is a lot of good music, romance, swinging songs, mysteries of Saint John’s Eve, omens and games necessary for celebrating this day properly!
27 June – Saint Sampson’s Day
Not much is known about Saint Sampson’s Day. Old people say that its Estonian name ‘Seven Sleepers’ Day’ refers to the occasion when seven brothers fell asleep in church or on the way to church.
Opinions vary as to what will happen if it rains on this day. It is believed in Kadrina that it will keep raining for seven weeks in a row, but the population of Sangaste thinks rain will only last for seven days. However the people of Kolga-Jaani expect consequences in the form of autumn rains.
What can you say? Pay attention to weather this year and let us know too!
1 July – Visitation
The Estonian name for this day is ‘Hay Mary’s Day’ which implies that it is related to hay in one way or another. In some areas of Estonia hay making would start, in other regions this day would mark the middle of hay making season, and somewhere else it was even believed that people had better take a break from haying on this day. All of that definitely depended on the weather.
If there is no need for making hay, this is a good day for picking cloudberries. It is hard to say ‘no’ to a little nice jar of cloudberry jam. Try to ask older relatives and friends where you can find good cloudberry spots and go look for it on a marsh!
And if you intend to dye yarn with natural ingredients, you should know that the plants gathered today will produce the most intensive colour.
10 July – Seven Brothers’ Day
Here is the legend about Seven Brothers’ Day commonly told in Väike-Maarja region.
There once lived seven brothers, who practiced their ancient Estonian faith, but when Germans came to plant their faith, the brothers refused to convert to it and were burnt for three days; their mother Maret later shared their fate. They are believed to have uttered a curse, and weather wisdom says that if it rains on Seven Brothers’ Day, it will keep raining for seven more weeks, but if there is so much sunlight as a man needs to jump upon a horse’s back, there will be much more.
We must admit that people still pay attention to this sign and it has proven quite right. Have you noticed whether the sun has been out today?
13 July – Maret’s Day
Numerous stories about this day have been around. It was believed that another name of this day meaning ‘the day of the woolly one’ could refer to the day of paying respect to the bear; folklore collectors of later periods developed the idea and told stories about a person called Maret, who was born covered with hair and became the ancestor of bears. However, folklore sources do not prove that version.
What should you pay attention to today? Fishermen could profit from knowing that fish is especially fat on Maret’s Day while holiday-makers and farmers should notice the weather today, which will foretell the weather for the next seven weeks, instead of checking forecasts online. If it rains, you are in for seven more weeks of rain, and if it does not, it will remain dry for another seven weeks.
20 July – Saint Elijah’s Day
This day is mostly celebrated in Setomaa. Working is strictly forbidden: if you do not worship Saint Elijah’s Day, lightning will strike you.
Although it is often the warmest in Estonia at the end of July, old people still believe that this day marks the beginning of late summer, when heat subsides and water becomes colder.
All of the above means you should use what is left of the summer well!
22 July – Saint Mary Magdalene’s Day
Similarly to other countries of Western Europe, this day is associated with the cult of Saint Mary Magdalene. The only folk saying about it stated that starting with this day people who had used up last year’s grain could get ‘emergency bread’ made of this year’s grain.
What can we recommend these days? You could think about your ancestors and bake some delicious rye bread from scratch. The housewives of Härjapea farm at the museum can give you a good recipe!
25 July – Saint James’ Day
Saint James’ Day is considered to be the turn of the summer and marks the beginning of late summer. This is when hay making is finished and the harvesting period starts. This day was also when girls started to gather to work together on Thursday and Sunday evenings, and the meetings took place until Annunciation in spring. They used to do handicraft and sing songs; sometimes young men and musicians would visit and then the evening became a dancing party.
As half of the summer is actually still ahead, and nobody would like to start looking for the autumn coat, there is one old ritual that is supposed to guarantee good weather in August. Namely, if you have a cat, this is the day to pet it well and give it fish and some sandwich. Then the cat is supposed to bring good weather for the harvesting season!
26 July – Saint Anne’s Day
This holiday is mainly known in Setomaa. This is when people commemorated Saint Anne, protector of sheep, and went to ‘Anne’s Stone’ and the chapel to bring a sacrifice of sheep heads, legs and wool. The priest kept a part of the produce, and the other part was given to the poor.
As our ancestors tried to have a meal of fresh lamb, veal or at least chicken and new potatoes on Saint Anne’s Day, you too could put a delicious dinner together. Get good local new potatoes at the market (or from your own vegetable patch) and buy a chunk of local meet or some other vegetables. Make a pot stew and enjoy! Think about our ancestors who would have spent half a year waiting for such a blessing…
29 July – Saint Olaf’s Day
Saint Olaf’s Day used to be mainly celebrated on the western coast and the nearby islands. Similarly to other holidays of this time of the year, Saint Olaf’s day symbolises the transition to consuming this year’s crop.
One of the most important traditions of Saint Olaf’s day was killing the sacrificial lamb: it was supposed to protect cattle from diseases and evil eye.
A tip for romantics: it is starting from Saint Olaf’s Day that the starry sky is especially beautiful at night.
1 August – Holy Maccabean Martyrs’ Day
For Setos, Holy Maccabean Martyrs’ Day was when they worshipped water. On this day water was blessed in the church during a prayer.
There is nothing much to recommend to modern people for this day. Just think about what you can do to keep or natural water bodies cleaner…
6 August – Paschal Day
Paschal day is one of many Setos’ holidays. Its other name, ‘apple day’ explains its meaning better. Namely, eating apples and other fruit was allowed after Paschal Day.
To make sure there is good yield, people brought apples to the church to give away and for blessing.
You too should check your garden today to see if any red-cheeked fruit is ready to be picked up.
Also, you can safely buy local apples at the market starting from this day.
10 August – Saint Lawrence’s Day
Saint Lawrence’s Day is one of the many holidays that mark the beginning of the harvesting period. Still there is one aspect that makes Saint Lawrence’s day unique: the beliefs related to fire. It was considered better to refrain from anything to do with lighting fire on this day in early August: heating the kiln or the stove in the summer kitchen and even lighting a candle was forbidden because it could bring on a fire. To avert danger, a sauna switch and a bucket of water were left on the stove for Saint Lawrence to take a bath.
You should observe the fire restriction as well. Better safe than sorry!
And for bee-keepers, Saint Lawrence’s Day is the time to start chasing old drone bees from the beehive.
15 August - Assumption of Mary Day
This day marks the time for sowing rye. To be more precise, a folk belief states that rye sowing should be started three days before the Assumption. A break had to be made for the holiday itself; otherwise rye would be poor. Sowing was allowed for other three days after the Assumption of Mary Day.
We recommend gardeners reserve a lot of time and find some large baskets. They say that this day brings plenty of berries, which are very good for making delicious and comforting jam you can enjoy in winter.
18 August – Florus’ and Laurus’ Day
Florus’ and Laurus’ Day is primarily known in the areas where Russian settlers lived. There is little information about it. Mainly what folklore says is that it was horses’ holiday, and they could not be used for work.
As far as advice goes, we should probably also let our horses (read ‘cars’) have a rest today and should go to work, shops, the beach or anywhere else on foot or by bicycle.
24 August – Saint Bartholomew’s Day
Saint Bartholomew’s Day marks the beginning of autumn. It is the time when ground frosts start, swallows begin leaving for the south, and cows yield less milk. On the other hand, it is a good period to start gathering honey; nuts are ripening and lots of mushrooms grow.
So this is the right time you grabbed your basket and went to look for good mushroom picking places. When you are in the woods, please remember that the nature is to be protected and respected. Otherwise you will have nothing to do there next year.
29 august – ‘Ivanoskorona’ in Seto (on the date of Saint John’s Beheading Feast)
In Estonia this holiday has only been celebrated in Setomaa. Folklore has retained very little about the rituals traditional for this day. We only know that men named Ivan had to buy a bottle of drink because it was their name-day. Cutting vegetables was forbidden too.
Well, what to say? Ivans and Jaans and anyone else can buy a bottle of drink. It is not specified if it is supposed to be hard liquor. We would rather recommend buying a bottle of good local juice. It will give you strength for the dark autumn that is about to arrive.
5 September – Saint Zechariah’s Day
Saint Zechariah’s Day is one of major fair days in Räpina and Seto regions. This is all the information we have about it nowadays.
So the only thing left to do is to find out what fairs are held in your closest neighbourhood on this day and start going. You do not necessarily have to buy anything; just enjoying the atmosphere can be fun too.
8 September – Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
This day, called ‘Snake Mary’s Day’ in Estonian, was when snakes supposed to find places for winter sleep, which marks the autumn decline of the nature. In some places going to the forest on this day was forbidden because the nature needed rest.
The thing to remember nowadays is the following: cranberry picking season starts after ‘Snake Mary’s Day’. Cranberries and cranberry juice are very useful for people with kidney and bladder issues apart from the fact that they are unbelievably delicious.
14 September – ‘Vissenja’ (Seto language)
This is yet one more of the many Seto holidays.
Similarly to ‘Snake Mary’s Day’ it is supposed to mark the beginning of snakes’ winter dormancy. Bringing brushwood home from the woods was strictly forbidden because it could result in waking up snakes and attracting them to your yard. Instead of work people used to go to church and celebrate.
Why don’t you get at least some time off today even if it is just a longer lunch break?
21 September – Saint Matthias’ Day
Opposed to the one in February, the autumn Saint Matthias’ Day is relatively little known. As many other September holidays, it marks wild animals’ preparation for winter sleep: flies, mosquitos and snakes disappear.
Weather was also foretold on Saint Matthias’ Day. The common belief in Otepää region was that if it rained on this day, the autumn would be extremely rainy.
Let’s hope that the weather is dry today. It would de be good to accumulate yet some more energy from the sun for the winter ahead!
23 September – autumn equinox
People observed the nature very carefully on autumn equinox. This could help one guess what the weather would be. Wind direction was the most important: if it blew from the north, the autumn would be cold. Western wind promised a long and warm autumn. Wind direction was also believed to predict the spring draught of fish.
You too had better pay attention to see where tree branches lean. If you are not sure where the north and the south are, using a compass might be a good idea.
29 September – Michaelmas
Michaelmas was one of the major milestones of the year for Estonians in times past. It concluded the harvesting season. While farmhands came to farms on Saint George’s Day, their labour contracts ended on Michaelmas. To celebrate the day, lavish tables were laid, which absolutely had to include autumn produce, lamb dishes and beer. The largest fair of the year used to be held at Michaelmas too.
Starting from this day, nobody slept in lofts and storehouses: everyone moved back to the dwelling.
So it might be appropriate to pack you summer trekking gear up today, put sleeping bags and tents away for storage and focus on life indoors. Enjoying roast lamb and vegetables while listening to good old folk music seem like a decent start of the winter season, doesn’t it?
14 October – ‘Yellowing Day’
There is not much to say about ‘Yellowing Day’. What folklore mainly states about it is that tree leaves would have turned yellow by then.
Look out of the window or, better still, go for a walk in the park to see if that is true.
26 October – Saint Demetrius’ Day
Saint Demetrius Day, the day for honouring the memory of ancestors, has been mainly celebrated in the east of Estonia. It is known that the best food was cooked and the table was laid to welcome the souls returning home. Another tradition involved going to the cemetery to have a meal there. First people would wait quietly and let the dead eat and then start eating themselves.
On Saint Demetrius’ Day, you too could recall the relatives who passed away. If the tradition of eating at the cemetery is not your cup of tea, why not light a candle at home and think about the departed loved ones.
28 October – Saint Simon the Apostle’s Day
Saint Simon’s Day is best described by the old saying “Simon builds bridges over marshes”. It was believed that when ice bridges had been made, Saint Martin would use them to come.
This is about the time you started to practice skating. That probably cannot be done outside just yet, but there are ice halls for your convenience. Then you will be able to boast your skills upon a frozen lake in the middle of winter.
29 October – Saint Anastasia’s Day
Saint Anastasia’s Day is the holiday widely honoured in Seto region with the tradition of asking relatives to come over. The celebration would often last for three days. There is no information about any food specific for the feast, but vodka, which would help the songs that guests would sing to thank the host flow freely, certainly had to be on the table.
When did you last have relatives over or paid them a visit? You do not have to drink vodka, but having a chat would be nice anyway.
9 November – Martinmas Eve
Martinmas marks the souls’ visiting time and the end of outdoor farm works. This is when women started with indoor handicraft and men went to work in the forest. One of the most important traditions was going around as Martin’s beggars. Initially it was reserved for men, but women have been participating since the end of the 19th century. People used to disguise themselves as families of Martin’s beggars on Martinmas Eve and go from door to door singing, dancing, playing games and riddles, gathering treats and wishing luck.
Why don’t you gather a group of friends, put on fur coats inside out, smudge soot on your faces, attach beards made of tow and go bring people some Martinmas luck. Of course, first you will have to refer to the folk calendar and learn how to do it right: what to sing, how to dance and which games to play. To get your treats (in old days any food wold do, but today people rather expect candy and cookies), you will have to work!
24 November – Saint Catherine’s Eve
Beggar impersonation is very important on Saint Catherine’s Day in addition to Martinmas. While Martin’s beggars are black, furry and ugly, Catherine’s beggars are white and beautiful. These were women and girls, usually going as Catherine the Mother and her children, who embellished themselves with veils, stockings, false plaits of hair and other pretty little things. Catherine’s beggars brought luck for cattle, especially sheep, which is why they checked how good girls in the families were at handicraft. They also played riddles, sang and danced just like Martin’s beggars did. If a Catherine’s beggar ‘peed’ in the corner of the room (i.e. sprinkled water there), this was also believed to bring good luck.
Saint Catherine’s Day is a good reason to get together with your girlfriends and decorate yourselves in a slightly different fashion than usual: put a veil made of a curtain on your head and rouge your cheeks with beetroot. Young men can join in too, and disguising them as women is bound to be great fun!
30 November – Saint Andrew’s Day
Saint Andrew’s Day is another holiday for which impersonating beggars was traditional, but manly Andrew’s beggars were less common than similar Martin’s beggars. However, Saint Andrew’s Day was the first of winter holidays to involve fortune-telling. One could see one’s future spouse in a dream. Write various names on small pieces of paper, roll them into rolls, and leave them under your bed. You will see the name of your future love on the piece of paper that has unrolled itself by the morning.
6 December - Saint Nicholas’ Day
While this day is associated with the Saint Nicholas i.e. Santa Clause who brings presents to children in the rest of the world, in Estonia it is relatively little known and mostly celebrated by the Orthodox. In the first place, Saint Nicholas’ Day stands for a change of weather: Nicholas builds bridges over rivers, which means that ice is thick and solid after this date. This is high time you put your lighter clothes away until spring and found all your properly warm hats, scarves and gloves!
13 December – Saint Lucy’s Day
Saint Lucy’s Day is a great holiday in Sweden, and in Estonia it was celebrated by Rannarootsi Swedes of the coast. On this day, care had to be taken to prevent evil from damaging cattle: an iron object was stuck in the straw for the night so that animals would eat straw during the winter; it was said that otherwise Lucy would crawl into the straw. Another saying states that Lucy comes with a broom, which means that it will have snowed a lot by this day. According to the old calendar, the night after Saint Lucy’s Day was the longest in the year. Thus this is the night to sweep the premises around the house clean with a broom and quietly light a candle at home in the dark evening hour.
21 December – Saint Thomas’ Day
Saint Thomas’ Day marks the beginning of major preparations for the approaching Christmas season. The whole house had to be set in order and dust and trash had to be swept out of the rooms; otherwise the following year would be spent in sloth and dirt. To ward off laziness, a figure of ‘Dirty Thomas’ was made of old clothes and straw, which had to be taken away from one’s house and land (for example, to the neighbouring farm). But one needed to be careful not to let a similar ‘Dirty Thomas’ near one’s own door. By Saint Thomas’ Day the farm owner had to have Christmas beer ready because beer makes a lot of froth and plenty of it can be prepared. Beer was also to be offered to Thomas’ beggars who went around and announced the approaching holidays.
We suggest that on Saint Thomas’ Day you too sweep your home clean and take out the trash you have gathered quickly to ensure success next year. After that you can enjoy some fizzy drink in the company of friends.
24 December – Christmas Eve
The holiday season that lasts until Epiphany on January 6 starts with Christmas Eve. The saying “Christmas is the king of holidays” sums up what this holiday meant for Estonians. The Christmas season was the time for luxury, when pork, black pudding and sweet pastries could be eaten and candy brought from the town could be enjoyed instead of the everyday food that was rather on the poor side. It felt good to stay at home with the family, make noise and play in the fresh straw placed on the floor or admire the Christmas tree in enchanting candle light. Families went to church accompanied by festive jingle bells. The Christmas night was the night of miracles: souls of ancestors were expected to come back home and food was left for them; fortune was told for the following year and one could see the future spouse in a dream. Christmas time naturally meant singing carols together, giving presents and wishing Merry Christmas to one another. We hope that Christmas happiness and beauty will visit every family in Estonia at this time!
26 December – Saint Stephen’s Day
Saint Stephen’s Day has been celebrated on the eastern coast. This was the day to let horses run freely, wash and water them. Stephen’s beggars who looked quite similar to Christmas or Thomas’ beggar went around too; they would not come indoors, but would ask the household for beer.
Those who have horses must definitely groom them; however most of us could deal with the maintenance of our loyal four-wheeled friends. Today is the right day for washing your car and choosing to be a designated sober driver to take your friends safely home after they have visited you.
28 December – the Holy Innocents’ Day
This holiday in Estonia mainly has a Christian background, commemorating the innocent male children executed by King Herod. In order to remember all the poor and helpless during Christmas season, today you could do something good for those less fortunate: donate to a charity or, better still, take part in a volunteer initiative to help children in orphanages, homeless people or stray animals.
31 December – New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve is the best time for fortune-telling. This is the time to ask spirits what the following year will bring: who will be courted, who will get ill or die, who will need to move house or go travelling. The most preferred way of fortune-telling is pewter casting. Eating on New Year’s Eve is the same as at Christmas; food is not taken off the table. If you went outside after midnight, the sounds you hear would help you foretell what the following year would bring: bell ringing stands for wedding bells; hearing a child cry means a baby will be born, and so on. A man disguised as a ‘New Year’s Eve goat’, whose horning brought good luck in the following year, could come over as well. New Year’s Eve is such a special night that sleeping is just not worth it.
If you have any good ideas about what could be done on which holiday of the folk calendar and you would like to share them with others, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please refer to the Database of Estonian Folk Calendar Holidays at www.folklore.ee/Berta and ‘Eesti Rahvakalender’ [Estonian Folk Calendar] 1-8 by M. Hiiemäe.