Here’s why Christmas in Estonia is so special

Celebrate the festive season the Estonian way.

Wondering what Christmas in Estonia looks like? Wrap up warm and let us take you through these beautiful traditions and experiences.

Everything you need to know about Christmas in Estonia

Christmas Tree in Tallinn, Estonia

The story of the first Christmas tree

Let’s travel back through the annals of history to mid-15th-century Estonia. We find ourselves in what is today the heart of Tallinn, the city centre bustling with the spirit of Christmas. The Estonians, always early adopters, are among the first people in northern Europe to embrace the beloved tradition of the Christmas tree. 

This place, Tallinn’s Town Hall Square to be precise, is seen by some as the birthplace of the public Christmas tree tradition. As noted in an age-old chronicle dating to 1441, a beautifully decorated fir tree was erected here by the guild of the Brotherhood of Black Heads, which was then danced around before being set aflame. 

This communal cheer with a touch of pyrotechnics set the stage for Estonia’s rich Christmas traditions that continue to this day.

The Estonian Santa Claus

In Estonia, the figure of Santa Claus, known locally as Jõuluvana, is considered the bringer of gifts and joy to the young and old during Christmas time. His story is interwoven with ancient folk tales, blending Christian traditions with pagan ones. Strikingly, in contrast to Santa’s cheery red attire, Jõuluvana can sometimes be seen cloaked in a sombre, earth-toned robe, reflecting Estonia’s deep relationship with its forests.  

A month of celebrations

Christmas is not only the most important holiday but a long event in this Baltic state. From the start of the Advent candle lighting, symbolising a countdown to the birth of Jesus, to an exultant New Year’s Eve, the celebrations are carried out with considerable vigour.

The tradition of Advent

As the calendar unspools to the end of November, an excited buzz starts to fill the Estonian air: it’s time for Advent. From 1 December, children count down the days to Christmas with Advent calendars, paving the way to the festive celebrations.   

Originally an import of German origin, the Advent calendar is now entrenched in the local tradition. Every morning, small children unleash a squeal of excitement as they unveil a miniature surprise – a delightful treat or a playful figurine – which only amplifies the festive fervour.   

But alongside the growing giddiness, this is also a period of quiet reflection. Advent signals the time to scour the lofts and other forgotten corners for cherished Christmas ornaments and Christmas crowns. These family treasures are regarded as silent storytellers of many a Christmas past in Estonian homes.

Snow covered Tallinn, Estonia

The Winter Solstice

At the heart of the Estonian winter pause is the Winter Solstice, marking the shortest day of the year, usually around 22 December. Amid the freezing temperatures, Estonia stops to honour the peaceful hush of the longest night. 

In doing so, the nation recognises not so much the chill but the enchantment of the tranquil snowscape. Venturing along the nature trails becomes a must-do activity, with locals threading through snow-clad labyrinths of arching pines under a silvery moonlight. When it’s not so cold, these landscapes also make a wonderful camping spot.

Meanwhile, to shoo away evil spirits and beckon good luck for the new year, bonfires blaze into the dark solstice night, casting dancing shadows and turning the snow-capped surroundings into a live canvas.

Tallinn Town Hall at Christmas time, Estonia

Christmas Eve 

Fast forward to the eagerly awaited 24 December, and more than just the temperature starts to cool things down. The bustling daytime activities gradually dwindle as night inches closer. And then, as the midnight bell tolls, Christmas Eve – for many the most important day of the festive season – officially begins. 

As the clock strikes midday, the Christmas Peace declaration is made from a balcony of Tallinn Town Hall, echoing in every corner of the well-lit city centre. A cherished custom dating back several centuries, it’s a heartening call to put aside all work and disputes and embrace the Christmas spirit, collectively and individually. 

Simultaneously, Tallinn’s Old Town Square comes alive with the sound of Christmas carols, interspersed with a reenactment of the nativity. The life-sized Christmas village glows with stardust, and its merry-go-round becomes an irresistible lure to locals and tourists alike. 

Blood sausage, Estonian food

Enjoying the Christmas feast

Back at home on December 24th, a delicious aroma wafts through many households along with the customary ‘Merry Christmas!’. Roast pork and blood sausage make it to the dinner spread, alongside potato salad and delectable gingerbread cookies – all typical Estonian food

What makes these dishes even more special is the tradition of leaving a little offering for any travelling spirits that might pass through, a gesture signalling that Estonian hospitality seemingly extends to the ethereal realm. 

Post-dinner, the evening is spent huddled around the Christmas tree, opening presents, singing songs and listening to children recite the short poems they have learnt for the festivities.

Come Christmas night, streets across Estonia glow under countless twinkling lights, casting a magical spell over those who witness it – a fitting finale to the day and an open invitation to the celebrations of the coming year.

Tallinn Christmas markets in Estonia

The Jewel of the Estonian Christmas  – Tallinn Christmas Market   

If you are visiting Estonia in December, Tallinn’s Christmas market is one of the best places to be. Dubbed one of the top Christmas market options in Europe, it fills the historic city centre during the Advent period, offering an enchanting scene right out of a fairy tale.

As you stroll down the cobblestone streets of Tallinn Old Town, the sight of wooden chalets dotting the square, draped in twinkling lights and Christmas decorations, is utterly captivating.

Each market stall is meticulously set up, groaning under the weight of unique items for sale. From mouthwatering Estonian delicacies like lingonberry jam to exquisitely made handicrafts, these offerings contribute not just to Estonia’s economy but also to preserving the country’s ancient Christmas traditions.

Snowflakes swirl down most days through the Christmas season, as if playing their part in the beautiful tableau. The market, a minute’s walk from the majestic view atop Toompea Hill, is radiant amid the white winter wonderland. If you’re planning on spending some more time in the capital, check out our guide to the best green things to do in Tallinn this year.

Before you go

A word to the prudent traveller: a winter holiday in Estonia is delightful, yet cold. Bring your own Christmas elves – your hat, gloves, and a thermos full of hot cocoa – to relish the Baltic chill in good spirits. Still need warming up? Head to one of Estonia’s traditional saunas – you’ll be toasty in no time!

More information

This project is in co-operation with Visit Estonia and co-funded by the European Union.

For more information, you can also see Neil Taylor’s guide to Estonia: