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.
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.
7 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.
Shrovetide (moving holiday)
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!
Ash Wednesday (moving holiday)
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!