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Estonia's Holidays

Annual Festivals, Celebrations, and Observances

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Tallinn Christmas Market

Tallinn Christmas Market

Kerry Kubilius, licensed to About.com
Estonia celebrates numerous holidays, some purely secular, others religious, and still others in recognition of its pagan heritage.

New Year’s Day—January 1

Estonia begins the New Year’s Eve party on December 31st and rings in the New Year with the rest of the world when the clock strikes midnight. Look for notice of special events, large and small parties, and New Year’s Eve offers if you plan to spend the holiday in Estonia.

Epiphany—January 6

Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season beginning on December 21st, or St. Thomas’ Day. The Christmas season traditionally required a halt to the brewing of beer, but brewers could resume their efforts after Epiphany.

Vastlapaev

Vastlapaev is Estonia’s Carnival. During the carnival celebration in Estonia, traditions are observed, games are played, and foods such as pea soup and pork are eaten.

Independence Day—February 24

Estonia’s first day of independence is celebrated on February 24th. On this day in 1918, Estonia’s National Council declared its independence from the Russian Empire.

Good Friday

The celebration of Good Friday may seem incongruous to Estonia’s famous lack of religiosity as a nation, but this holiday continues to hold sway in some respects. Some people may eat a traditional meal on this day and refrain from doing any work.

Native Language Day—March 11

Native Language Day recognizes the importance of Estonian language to the country’s culture and development. It falls on the birthdate of the father of modern Estonian poetry.

Easter

Easter is recognized in Estonia with long-standing traditions as well as modern traditions. When it does not serve as a religious holiday, it serves to mark the beginning of the warm-weather season. Typical symbols of Easter, such as brightly colored eggs, are characteristic of this holiday in Estonia.

May Day/Spring Day—May 1

May Day in Estonia takes on its ancient meaning of being a gathering night of witches. On May Day Eve, people may dress as witches for this springtime antecedent to Halloween.

Whitsunday/Pentacost

Whitsunday is observed with shortened business hours in Estonia.

Flag Day—June 4

June 4th is the day the Estonian flag was consecrated in 1884. It was formally adopted by the newly declared Estonian nation in 1918, but it was banned during Soviet times.

Day of Mourning and Commemoration—June 14

This day commemorates the victims of deportation efforts that began in 1941 during the Soviet regime.

Victory Day—June 23

June 23rd marks the victory in an important battle during Estonia’s War of Independence from 1918-1920.

St. John’s Day—June 24

The longest day of the year is recognized with festivities that rival those of the Christmas season. It is closely connected to Victory Day, observed on St. John’s Eve, and the two holidays have become intertwined, Victory Day often being subsumed under the exuberance of St. John’s Day celebrations. Pagan rituals, such a lighting of bonfires, are followed on this day in a continuance of centuries-old traditions important to Estonian heritage.

Day of Restoration of Independence—August 20

Estonia reasserted its independence and officially declared itself no longer a part of the Soviet Union in 1991, though the country had been working up to independence several years prior to official declaration.

Day of Remembrance for Victims of Nazism and Stalinism—August 23

This Europe-wide holiday remembers the Molotov-Ribbetrop Pact signed in 1939, the non-aggression treaty that allowed Germany and the Soviet Union to concentrate on their own agendas without interference from the other.

Resistance Fighting Day—September 22

Resistance Fighting Day is strongly associated with the Estonian national hero, Otto Tief. Tief attempted to re-establish Estonia’s independence in 1944 after German forces had left and before Russia’s army set up occupation.

All Souls’ Day—November 2

As in nearby countries, All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day remembers the deceased. With candles lighting graves in cemeteries, it is believed that wandering souls will find their proper path.

Day of Declaration of Sovereignty—November 16

The Day of Declaration of Sovereignty recognizes the 1988 act that declared Estonia’s laws to be above Soviet ones and Estonia’s right to control its own resources. It stopped just short of the declaration of independence that occurred in 1991.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day—December 24 and 25

Estonian Christmas traditions include the well-established Tallinn Christmas Market that makes celebrating for visitors a fun and interesting way to experience Estonian culture and food.
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