Easter in Estonia – cleaning, predicting the weather and painting eggs

Estonia may be one of the least religious countries in the world, but when it comes to religious holidays, Estonians usually nod or combine it with one of their own folk traditions.

Easter, which commemorates the crucifixion and celebrates the resurrection of Jesus – a Jewish preacher and religious leader who became the central figure of Christianity – may have had a completely alien connotation to Estonians before the Teutonic Knights brought Christianity to the country in the 13th century, but in the Estonian folk calendar Easter is celebrated as a spring holiday to welcome the arrival of the lighter and warmer season.

As Christian customs mingled with local traditions, a new set of habits emerged over time.

In the folk calendar, Kevadepüha or spring holiday falls somewhere between 16 March and 20 April in the week before Easter. Traditionally, this week was important for completing household chores such as cleaning after a long winter. The weather during this week could apparently predict the climate for the summer. If it rained, it would be a wet summer, and if it was foggy, it would be a hot summer.

Judging personalities by egg colour

Good Thursday was regarded as a partial holiday in preparation for Good Friday. Lighter meals were eaten and everyone rested on Good Friday. It was a rare occasion when people actually left their homes on this day.

Much like today, Easter Sunday was a day of celebration. It was usually the day when eggs were exchanged or given as gifts. Young people would meet at the nearby village swing and the girls would give the decorated eggs to the boys as a thank you for building the swing where they would spend the afternoon.

An Estonian folk party. Photo by the Estonian Open Air Museum.

Traditionally, eggs are decorated by boiling them in the outer skin of an onion, resulting in a range of browns, yellows and golds, but many people use their imagination and paint the eggs in bright colours.

According to the Estonian folk calendar, the colours have a meaning: pink – tenderness, green – hope, blue – loyalty, yellow – falsehood, and grey – balance. The girls would let the boys choose an Easter egg, and depending on which colour they chose, the girls would be able to judge their personalities.

This is followed by the egg cracking competition, where each contestant has an egg and the winner is the one who cracks the shell of their opponent’s egg without cracking their own.

An Estonian Easter card from the 1930s.

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