Christmas as a holiday was established in the IV century, while in Estonia it was celebrated since the country’s Christianization – the appearance of Christian invaders.
The first public Christmas tree was placed in the old town square in Tallinn in 1441. Between the years 1523-1526 Reformation was carried out in Estonia. In 1691 New Year’s Day became an official holiday.
In the second half of the XIX century the tradition of bringing the Christmas tree home, was adopted from the German-speaking populace and was soon popularized by schools and manor houses. In peasant families this custom was adopted at the beginning of the XX century. The tradition of St. Nicolas, who brought gifts spread in Estonia during the first quarter of the last century.
Christmas was officially forbidden during Soviet occupation. It was limited to the celebration of New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Despite these bans Christmas was still being celebrated and a large number of Estonians took part in Christmas Mass. Before the mass, people lit candles on the graves of family members. This custom became a peaceful, nation-wide way to protest against Soviet ideology and atheistic propaganda. Christmas, although it was treated as a usual work day, was celebrated in the home, together with family and friends. Due to political changes in the late 1980’s, Christmas, Christmas Tree and St. Nicolas regained official recognition. Few years later, after the full restoration of independence, Christmas once again became national, religious holiday.
Translator: Szczepan Witaszek