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!
Moving holiday– Palm Sunday (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.
Moving holiday – 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.
Moving holiday – 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!
Moving holiday – 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!