Estonia is famously one of the most secular of the countries of Eastern Europe, so Estonians may not make as much of religious holidays as do other nations of this region. Even if you plan a visit to Tallinn, the Estonian capital, during this holiday, you will be hard-pressed to find special events surrounding this holiday happening at this time—contrast to Easter in Krakow or Prague, which seems to be a second Christmas. However, if you really crave witnessing Estonian Easter traditions, head to the Estonian Open Air Museum, located in Tallinn, to discover first-hand folk games played with eggs and other rituals surrounding this springtime holiday.
Easter has many names in Estonian, including ones that mean “meat-eating holiday,” “egg holiday,” “Resurrection,” and “swing holiday.” The last refers to the wooden swings built for springtime as a part of an old fertility ritual. Visitors to Estonia, Lithuania, and elsewhere can still see large swings in open-air museums or even in city centers where the focus of the holiday activities takes place.
Easter Sunday is, of course, is marked with family gatherings and lots of food—including eggs. Children may participate in egg decorating or an Easter egg hunt, traditions which have bled into Estonian culture as Easter has become more commercialized and better-oriented to children. One aspect of Easter that links today’s celebrations with the past is the consumption of beer, wine, or another type of alcohol, which is not unusual given that the holiday is one for relaxing with loved ones.
The most traditional type of Easter eggs in Estonia is that decorated with natural dye: onion skins, birch bark, flowers, and plants. Sometimes patterns were imprinted on the eggs with leaves or grains, the image of the object preventing the dye from seeping into the shell when pressed to it with tightly tied fabric or mesh. Eggs could also be dyed using the batik method or etched. Today, of course, commercial dyes, stickers, or sleeves are used to decorate eggs, particularly by children. However, some people and cultural centers maintain the tradition of eggs dyed in a more customary fashion and pass this practice down to the younger generations.
Eggs were traditionally given as gifts to family members, friends, or potential loves—girls would present boys with painted eggs and judge their character based on the boy’s choice of egg.
As in other parts of the region of Eastern and East Central Europe, cracking eggs together to see which player’s egg cracks first was and is a popular Easter game. It was considered a mean trick to mix a raw egg in with the boiled eggs, ensuring that the person who selected the raw egg by mistake would lose the game (and make a mess). Eggs were also rolled down a manufactured ramp or down a hill in a type of race—the player’s egg who rolled the fastest or which drove other eggs off course was the winning egg.
Instead of Easter palms, Estonians have long used pussy willow branches for this Easter symbol, decorating their houses with them or whipping each other with the twigs to ensure strength and prosperity for the coming year.
Easter greeting cards appeared as a strong tradition after WWII, with the expected scenes depicting Easter eggs, flowers, and other symbols of spring, and the Easter bunny is a known character to children in Estonia. Chocolate eggs and bunnies, as well as other candy, are another modern marker of this holiday.
Visitors to Estonia
Visitors to Tallinn or other cities in Estonia should be aware of some closings for the Easter holidays. Both Good Friday and Easter Sunday are public holidays, meaning some public institutions, shops, and restaurants may be closed. On the other hand, cities won’t shut down completely, and some museums and other attractions will operate as normal or with a reduced schedule during this time.