The meaning of Christmas in the old Estonian tradition

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Tags: Christmas | Traditions

The day marking the beginning of ‘jõulud’ (Christmas), also called Winter Holidays, in Estonian tradition is 21st of December – Toomapäev – when big cleaning bees start. In the morning of 21st one should get up as early as possible, thoroughly clean their home and start making other preparations for the holidays.

According to the old Estonian tradition, the meaning of Christmas was to celebrate New Year. Toomapäev marks the ending of the half-year-long period of days getting shorter, and as the old people have said, the sun goes to stay in its winter nest, staying there from 22nd to 24th of December. On December 25 the sun raises from its nest and the days are starting to get longer again. In this old tradition, this was also the first day of the new year (so the 24.12 was New Year's Eve and 25.12 New Year´s Day).

Our folk calendar is looking into the future. During the holidays, the happiness and health of the future is created. Christmas Holidays is a time for preparations for the whole next year. The time and space for this creation must be clean and sublime (cleaning, decorating), abundant (good food and drinks) and happy (resting, playing, being with the family).

The Christmas miracle means that the new year is welcomed and happiness is created in our homes, which has been made festive with cleaning, decorating and delicious dishes. Christmas should be spent in the family circle. Vacation means doing things differently than in our everyday life. Those working outdoors everyday could spend more time indoors. Those working daily more indoors, could go into the nature, as much as possible.

Christmas should be merry everywhere and for everyone

The rifle and the ax must stay silent during the holidays, because Christmas is peaceful time also for the trees, birds and animals. It is time to go hiking and just gather strength from nature. Christmas has been also time for visiting sacred places, and taking offerings for earth-gods, fairies and spirits.

This tradition is rich in wisdom and knowledge on how to create a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. It is the wisdom of living together with nature and its year-round circle of life.


This text is based on the text by Ahto Kaasik.

Photo by Adriaan Greyling from Pexels