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Easter

Easter 2018 and 2019

Easter has been celebrated in Estonia since the 13th Century, when the Teutonic Knights first introduced Christianity to the region, and both Easter Sunday and Good Friday are still public holidays in Estonia to this day.

YearDateDayHoliday
201830 MarFriGood Friday
1 AprSunEaster Sunday
201919 AprFriGood Friday
21 AprSunEaster Sunday

Today Estonia is also one of the most secular countries on the planet, 75 percent of its people considering themselves non-religious. There are still those who attend Good Friday and Easter Sunday church services in Estonia. About a sixth of Estonians, mostly its Russian population, are Eastern Orthodox, and about a tenth, mostly ethnic Estonians, are Lutheran. The more devout among them will still call Easter “Lihavotted” (meat-taking holiday) if they fasted for Lent up till Easter time.

To most, however, Easter is almost purely secular. Greeting cards will often be sent, and they will feature springtime flowers and Easter eggs more than crosses and empty tombs. The Easter Bunny has also become popular in recent years, and much focus will be on decorating homes with pussy willows and grass-growing pots to remind of the arrival of new life and warmer weather. Cleaning out the house after the long, cold winter is also an important seasonal ritual.

One unique Estonian tradition is that of swinging on large, wooden swings, sometimes built for the very occasion, on Easter Sunday. They are located in city centres and public places and consist of towering support beams, a long, arched bridge-like swinging platform, and “handle bars.” You swing standing up, holding onto the handle bars, with your back facing outwards. For this reason, Easter in Estonia is called “Swing Holiday” as often as “Spring Holiday.”

The biggest events in Estonian Easters, however, are all about the eggs. Egg sales soar to quadruple the usual rate, and another name for Easter is “Munadepuha” (egg holiday). There is egg painting with natural dyes from beets or onion skins, eating eggs for Easter lunch, hunting for eggs, exchanging eggs as gifts, and playing egg games. One game has you knock your Easter egg against an opponent’s, and another has the eggs rolling down a sandy ramp to strike other eggs. Either way, the person’s whose egg cracks first loses, and the winner gets to eat the loser’s egg.

Although Easter events are rare in Estonia, here are a few ideas on what to do if in the country for Easter:

  • Go to the Estonian Open Air Museum in Tallinn, the capital, to experience Estonian Easter traditions, including the egg games and the large, wooden swings. A similar cultural event takes place in Setomaa further south, and smaller events are found in various city centres.
  • In Tallinn, visit the “Old Town,” where you will find a Medieval tower and cobblestone wall, the old Gothic town hall building, and the Estonian History Museum. Also worth touring in Tallinn are the Tallinn Zoo, the Estonian Maritime Museum, and the beautiful Kadriorg Park.
  • See an Estonian spring in full bloom at Karula National Park in southern Estonia. There are numerous hills, lakes, and woodlands, endangered plantlife like the Baltic orchid and the daisyleaf grape fern, and endangered animals like the black stork and spotted eagle. You will also see plenty of lynx and elk.

Estonia is a beautiful place to visit any time of year but especially in the spring. Touring Estonia at Easter time will also expose you to some unique cultural traditions you will remember for years to come.