Christmas trivia

Do Estonians live in Jõulumaa?

The Estonian word Jõulud (Christmas) has an old Scandinavian origin and comes from the word Jul. In Scandinavia and in Estonia the day of Christ’s birth is defined by a word of pre-Christian origin: Jul in Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish, Jol in Icelandic, Juolu in Finnish and Yule in British. Now we can say that Finns, Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Icelanders and Brits as well as Estonians live in a country called Jõulumaa.


Jõulud was celebrated in Estonia before the coming of Christianity and it lasted 17 days. In the old days Estonians celebrated the feast of winter solstice – the birth of the sun. Starting from that day, every following day became longer and the sun shone higher. Jõulud was celebrated from the Feast of St. Thomas (December 21st), ale the way to the Feast of the Three Kings (January 6th), long before Christianity came here. Jõulud – a feast which combined excessive eating and the ban on certain types of labor, was seen as a time of rest during the long, dark, winter days.

Christmas Tree in Estonia

First, public Christmas Tree was placed in the old town square in Tallinn in 1441. The tradition of bringing the Christmas Trees home, spread in the XIX century, thanks to local communities of Baltic Germans. The tree for this occasion was always fir, apart from places where there were few trees – there pine trees were also used. First Christmas Tree ornaments were toys, sweets and candles.

Why must people eat exactly 7, 9 or 12 times during Christmas Eve?

These were magical numbers, and excessive eating also assured one of abundance of food in the upcoming year. If a man ate seven times during Christmas Eve in the upcoming year he would have the strength of seven men.

Why must Christmas dishes remain on the table through the whole night?

It was believed that at that time, as well as during New Year’s Eve and the Feast of Three Kings, the house would be visited by the spirits of ancestors.

Has Jõulud always been a family holiday?

Jõulud was supposed to be a time of peace and quiet. In the old days it was forbidden to visit anyone during the first day of the feast. Moreover, if the guest was a woman, it was seen as a bad sign. The same was true for New Year’s Eve. For Christians 24th and 25th of December was a holy time – people stayed home, read the Bible and sang Christmas carols. Näärid or the grand celebration of the changing of the years was a joyful holiday in both traditions.

Was beer brewed by the thousands of liters in each old, Estonian household?

Christmas was also known as the Feast of Beer and all the beer which was brewed up to the Feast of St. Thomas should have sufficed until the Feast of the Three Kings. The brewing of beer was a man’s job, and had to begin in the middle of the night, so that the devil’s eye wouldn’t thwart this most important undertaking.

Has a Christmas day of peace been proclaimed in Estonia for the last 350 years?

Each year on the 24th of December the president of Estonia, proclaims Christmas peace and takes part in a mass. This tradition was started by the Swedish princess Christine in the XVII century.


Translator: Szczepan Witaszek


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