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How to celebrate Christmas like a local in Tallinn

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Estonians love Christmas. It is the number one holiday of the year. Christmas is celebrated from 24 to 26 December and the right way to spend it is, of course, with your loved ones. Follow our guide to a traditional Estonian Christmas!

Like most countries, Estonians have their own Christmas traditions that help to create that special festive feeling. Estonian Christmas is a mash-up of different components from age-old local traditions to modern western customs.

If you happen to be in Tallinn in December you'll have a chance to experience this magical time first hand. 

A local's tip: 24, 25, and 26 December are public holidays in Estonia so many museums, shops, and restaurants might have different working hours or be closed for the holidays. Check our list of attractions open on Christmas and New Year's - all of them are free or discounted with Tallinn Card, the city's all-in-one sightseeing pass. 

Christmas music

Estonian Christmas concerts are the first step on the way to quiet down in time for Christmas. In December the churches of Tallinn are filled with locals, who come to enjoy Christmas concerts given by Estonian superstars. Usually, Estonian singers pair up and tour around the country performing popular Christmas songs. In December you’ll most likely find several posters around Tallinn with nostalgic undertones, featuring a male and a female singer, advertising a Christmas concert.


Go to one of these concerts and see the softer side of Estonians, one that they don’t often show. Estonian singers are amazing vocalists, and also fond of singing international Christmas carols, so you don’t need to be afraid that you won’t understand or recognise any of the classics. After the concert, ask for an autograph, or maybe even a selfie - you can show it later to your friends back home while watching the same Estonian superstars performing at the Eurovision Song Contest.

Christmas cards

Sending Christmas greetings to your neighbours, relatives, and friends is very popular. Stop by the nearest post office or bookstore in Tallinn. There you’ll find a wide selection of glittering snowy Christmas cards, as well as humble and warm cards with lovely Estonian poems. Choose the ones you like the most and get all warm and fuzzy inside while writing and sending your seasonal greetings from Estonia this year!

Charity

Christmas is the time of giving; seemingly distant but warm-hearted Estonians love to help others in need. Charity concerts, TV shows and charity collections help to share the love and bring Christmas feeling to those who are less fortunate.

If you wish to help there are several ways to do so. Everyone can take part by calling donation numbers or leaving change or a small gift in the collection points at supermarkets and shopping malls. I love to help (Ma armastan aidata) is an organisation that introduces different causes and offers different ways to help. On Christmas Day, the Jõulutunnel TV show on Estonian National Television (ETV) collects donations for charitable organisations.

Christmas Peace

The holiday season is dedicated to peace and joy. On 24 December at 12 p.m. the Mayor of Tallinn announces the Christmas Peace from the Town Hall, next to the Christmas Market. The Christmas Peace encourages everyone to act in a respectful and peaceful manner during Christmas. Many locals gather to the Christmas Market to officially start the celebration of Christmas with the announcement.

Christmas parties

The three days of Christmas are usually spent with the closest family and friends. But during the season of joy, Estonians like to spread and share the festive feeling among their colleagues. Christmas parties are a common way to thank everyone before heading off to Christmas holidays. Restaurants and catering businesses offer Christmas packages for office Christmas parties, and companies compete to find out who can throw the most epic party for their workforce.

Those Christmas parties might be for closed groups of people, but you can throw your own party in the Estonian style! For the holiday season, many restaurants create a special Christmas menu that everyone can enjoy. Book a table or a private room in a restaurant, invite your friends, get some presents, take a few silly photos, and enjoy!

Estonian Christmas food

Food is one of the most important parts of any Christmas celebration. On Christmas Eve, the Estonian table is filled with blood sausages, pork, potatoes, vegetables, lingonberry jam, pickled pumpkin, jellied meat, sauerkraut, and of course Estonian black bread.


Traditional Christmas snacks include gingerbread cookies, dried fruit, nuts, all sorts of chocolate, and tangerines. The most popular drink of the season is hõõgvein, mulled wine. The best place to enjoy mulled wine in the holiday season is at the Tallinn Christmas Market on the medieval Town Hall Square. Estonian breweries also bring out special darker beers for the Christmas season.

Decorations

Traditional Christmas decorations in Estonia are more about understatement and natural materials than about glitz and glamour. Locals prefer subtle and low-key ways in which to decorate their homes for the festive season.


Usually, the snow and some warm candles or lights at the windows are enough to create a special feeling during Christmas. The city is filled with light installations bringing some extra light to the darkest time of the year. 

The best-known local brand producing seasonal decorations is Shishi. In addition to shops, you can see their decorations on two public Christmas trees in Tallinn: in Niguliste Museum and in the Noblessner Seafront Quarter

Christmas tree

The guest of honour in an Estonian household is, of course, the Christmas tree. The tree is brought inside, where children can decorate it with the help of adults. The Christmas tree in Estonia is traditionally a spruce, and trees can be found in markets around Tallinn. If you live in a small home and can’t bring a whole tree inside, you can get some spruce branches: put them in a vase and decorate them. Many Christmas trees in Estonia still have real candles lighting them up – though we advise care in this case!


The most famous Christmas tree in Estonia stands on Town Hall Square in the middle of the magical Christmas Market. The tradition to bring a big festive tree to the square dates back to the 15th century and was established by the Brotherhood of Black Heads. It is widely thought to be the longest-running public display of a Christmas tree in the world. Many city's squares and quarters also set up their own festive trees.  

Presents

Estonians have traditionally preferred handicraft and books as presents, but all kind of gadgets and technology are also popular. Most of the presents are for children, many of whom send a wish list to Santa Claus, and anxiously wait for him to come on Christmas Eve. Sometimes Santa Claus doesn’t have time to stop by (we all know he is very busy), so he leaves the presents under the tree or behind the door. In this case, someone will take the role of the elf, and hand out the presents.

The growing number of presents hasn’t changed one vital part of Estonian Christmas tradition - for every present you get, you have to sing a song or read a poem for Santa Claus or the elf. The traditional poems are known by heart by every Estonian, and the most talented (or motivated) kids create poems of their own. Babies can shake hands with Santa Claus, or even high-five him, to get a present.


Merry Christmas! Häid jõule!

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