Estonian traditions and customs

What traditions and customs are there in Estonia?

An overview of the Baltic country of Estonia and its customs and traditions.

Food and economy

Food in daily life

In autumn and winter, soups and stews predominate, with potatoes being a staple in most meals. In spring and summer, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers accompany every meal. Sandwiches are a common breakfast food, and coffee is frequently enjoyed throughout the day and at social events.

In coastal areas fish is eaten. Many people grow fruits, vegetables, and berries during the summer and can make what is left over in the fall. Family dinners are rare, as both parents often work. Most families try to share a meal together over the weekend.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Christmas dinner includes roast pork or goose, black pudding, sauerkraut, potatoes and head cheese, with gingerbread cookies for dessert. Other special occasions such as birthdays, weddings, and funerals do not require special foods, although food is expected to be large. Evening social gatherings almost always include meals accompanied by vodka.


Estonians are socially introverted and keep a distance in public and private spaces. People move relatively quickly, rarely make eye contact, and speak quietly in public. Russians are perceived as loud, boisterous, and not respectful of personal space.

Religious beliefs

The Evangelical Lutheran Church is the largest denomination, with some 185,000 members. There is a dispute between the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church (EAOC) and the Russian Orthodox Church; more ethnic Estonians belong to the EAOC, which has approximately three thousand members. Other churches have small but growing congregations.

Most people attend church only at Christmas and do not consider themselves religious, although they believe in life after death and have some concept of destiny. Astrology, supernatural beliefs, and shamanism (from the country’s pre-Christian roots) have gained acceptance.

Secular celebrations

Traditional weddings are two or three day events that include games and generous amounts of food and drink. Birthdays are always celebrated, and baptisms and confirmations are celebrated with big parties. The most important holiday is still Christmas.

Despite Soviet opposition, Christmas trees were decorated and traditional meals were served. New Year’s Eve is considered part of the Christmas holidays. A sauna before midnight cleanses the body and spirit for the following year.

The old popular calendar included many days that influenced agricultural decisions. On Shrove Tuesday, people still go sledding to make the flax plants grow taller. On Midsummer’s Eve (June 23), almost all Estonians go to the countryside to celebrate summer with huge bonfires.

Saint Martin’s Day (November 10) and Saint Catherine’s Day (November 25) are celebrated with children dressed up and going door-to-door to perform at parties.

State holidays with official government celebrations include Independence Day (February 24), Victory Day (June 23), and Independence Restoration Day (August 20).

Arts and Humanities

Arts support

Previously subsidized by the state, the artists are now self-sufficient.


Nationalism has depended on writing, and Estonians identify themselves in works of fiction. The early novels reflected rural hardship in typically Estonian settings. In the 1960s, writers began to comment on the lack of cultural and political freedom. Jaan Kross reinvented Estonian cultural heroes in his historical novels.

Graphic arts

Applied arts, including pottery, ceramics, and textiles, often incorporate national motifs.

Performing arts

Theater, ballet, and opera have been popular since the 19th century. Estonian classical music has gained worldwide recognition through composers Arvo Pärt, Veljo Tormis and Eduard Tubin and conductors Eri Klas and Neeme Järvi.

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