Estonians celebrate Shrove Tuesday by eating whipped cream buns

Known as “Pancake Tuesday” in the UK, Ireland, Australia and Canada, Estonians celebrate Shrove Tuesday or Vastlapäev instead – and eat lots of buns with whipped cream.

As elsewhere, this movable festival is determined by Easter and has its origins in the Christian calendar. The expression “Shrove Tuesday” comes from the word “shrive”, meaning “to absolve”, and its meaning was to make a special point of self-examination by Christians – to consider what wrongs they need to repent of and what changes in life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to “ask God’s help in dealing with”.

As Estonians have never been particularly religious – Estonia was one of the last corners of medieval Europe to be Christianised in the 13th century – Vastlapäev has always been associated with entertainment and the anticipation of spring.

Old traditions

Traditionally, people went sledging and danced in the evening on Vastlapäev. According to old beliefs, sledging was important – the longer the sledge, the longer the stalk of flax would be in the fields next summer. Sliding was done on a linen sack or a handful of flax, later on a sledge or a sleigh.

Sledging in Tallinn.

The strange beliefs didn’t stop there: it was forbidden to light a fire or spin lamb’s wool; it was advisable and customary to comb and cut one’s hair – and if that wasn’t enough, it was forbidden to lick the fat from one’s fingers and to wash one’s face after eating fatty pig’s trotters (pig’s feet). Apparently this would protect you from being cut with sharp instruments.

But there was plenty of entertainment. Humming tops were made from the bones of pigs’ feet, and there were competitions for the best humming top. Vastlapäev was also a women’s holiday: they went to inns for a drink to ensure long flax fibres, and it was customary to drink from the bottle to symbolise the length of the flax.

As for the cuisine – well, it was rustic. The traditional meal was a soup of peas and beans and boiled pig’s trotters.

On these days, children still use sledges and boards for sliding. As for flax, it is very rarely grown in Estonia today – there is no flax processing industry in the country.

Vastlakukkel -
Vastlakukkel. Photo by

But there is a more modern tradition that young and old alike still follow on Vastlapäev – they all eat tonnes of buns with whipped cream on this day.

Source: University of Tartu. * This article was originally published on 9 February 2016.

2 thoughts on “Estonians celebrate Shrove Tuesday by eating whipped cream buns”

  1. It´s not only a tradition with buns with whipped cream Also we in Sweden indulge in these delicious things.I wonder if it might be something that the swedes imported during th 17:th century whwn Estonia was a part of Sweden.
    There is a story about a swedish king, Adolf Fredrik ,who on the twelfth of february 1771 died after eating too many of these buns

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