Der folgende Beitrag ist in Zusammenarbeit mit der Estin Eneli Kajak entstanden, die von 2006 bis 2007 als Austauschschülerin in Deutschland gelebt hat.
Christmas time is one of the most important holidays for Estonians. In the traditional folk calendar, Christmas time began on St. Thomas’s Day (December 21st) and ended on Epiphany (January 6th). Winter and summer solstices, which are celebrated in Estonia, are known as Christmas and Midsummer Night in Estonian folk-tradition.
Like in every other country, children are the ones who are waiting for Christmas the most here in Estonia. Like in other Nordic and most European countries, the most important days are Christmas Eve and Christmas Day but the atmosphere becomes more festive already at the start of December. With the help of advent calendars, especially the children are counting down the days until Christmas Eve. Many children hang a sock or put shoes on the window sill so that the Christmas elves can leave some little gifts behind for them each day – our traditional kind of “advent calendar”. The adults are usually only lighting advent candles while they are waiting for Christmas.
Each year on December 24 the President of Estonia declares Christmas Peace and attends a Christmas service. This is a 350-year-old tradition in Estonia, which was initiated by Queen Kristina of Sweden during the 17th century (Estonia was under the Swedish rule then) and in which the Estonian President urges everyone – people as well as countries – to put aside their differences and live together peacefully.
It was a tradition to eat large meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Night. Those meals – which, according to an old tradition, consisted of seven to twelve different courses – were seen as a good omen and a symbol of an abundance of food for the coming year. Our traditional Christmas food in Estonia was pork with sauerkraut, white or blood sausage, and special Christmas bread. Estonians still eat a lot of pork and sauerkraut at Christmas time, but nontraditional families may also have some simple snacks and potato salad on their table.
While everyone is eating, the gifts were placed under the Christmas tree by Jõuluvana – St. Nicholas, now mainly known as Santa Claus – who came all the way from Lapland in his reindeer-drawn sleigh. Just like in many German families, the gift giving part of Christmas starts after dinner on Christmas Eve and everyone has to say a poem or sing/play a song before they receive their gifts.
Christmas as an official holiday was banned during the Soviet occupation due to the state atheism in the Soviet Union. As a sign of resistance, Estonians began to light candles for their deceased loved ones at home and on their grave. Even nowadays, the graveyards are beautifully illuminated by candles around Christmas time, even though Christmas became an official religious holiday again after regaining independence in 1991.
Some new and mainly Finnish and Scandinavian features have become obvious alongside ancient Estonian Christmas traditions. One of the most popular ones is the habit of celebrating Pre-Christmas or little Christmas during the first weeks of December. Pre-Christmas with food and drinks, mostly with mulled wine, is celebrated among colleagues in offices or friends visiting each other.