The Christmas season is an important time in Estonia and three consecutive public holidays are provided on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after Christmas. Although the holiday was long banned in Estonia during its time as part of the U.S.S.R., today, Christmas is making a major resurgence.
|2019||24 Dec||Tue||Christmas Eve|
|25 Dec||Wed||Christmas Day|
|26 Dec||Thu||2nd Day of Christmas|
|2020||24 Dec||Thu||Christmas Eve|
|25 Dec||Fri||Christmas Day|
|26 Dec||Sat||2nd Day of Christmas|
First, there is the ancient, pagan winter solstice element, from which the Estonian term for Christmas, “Joulud,” derives. In southern Estonia, Christmas is even called “Talvistepuha,” meaning “winter holiday,” which reflects both the connection with the winter solstice and “spill-over culture” from across the Latvian border. For in Latvia, Christmas is called “Ziemas Svetki,” meaning “winter fest.”
There is also, of course, the Christian meaning of Christmas, and many Estonians will attend Christmas Eve church services to remember the story of Christ’s birth. But there are also foreign influences from Finland and Sweden, such as the holding of a “Little Christmas” party early in December.
One Estonian Christmas tradition stems from the attempt of the Soviets to eradicate Christmas. Estonians began, in those days, to light candles over the graves of deceased loved ones as a sign of resistance to the banning of Christmas. They still keep up the practice to this day.
While Estonian Christmases begin with Advent, when many families put up Advent calendars to count down the days to Christmas and light Advent candles to count down the weeks, the real “action” picks up on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is celebrated too, but Christmas Eve is the main event.