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Ilusad Jõulud or Merry Christmas the Estonian way

By Jana Belugina

Christmas is the most important holiday for Estonians. It is interesting to note, that the Estonian word for Christmas is "Jõulud", derived from the pagan celebration Jul or Yule which has no connection to Christianity. Traditionally, the Christmas season starts from the 1st of December with Advent. This is the time when all the windows are lit up by Advent candles, doors are decorated with Christmas wreaths and children hang their socks at night, in order to find some small presents from the elves in the morning. This time of year is considered to be the quietest one, as since ancient times all the noisy activities were banned in order not to disturb the good spirits.

On the 21st of December, the Feast of St. Thomas is celebrated and Christmas trees are decorated all over the country. From that day until the Epiphany on the 6th of January, Estonians restrain from heavy work, spending more time with family and friends and cooking traditional, seasonal foods. Excessive eating during this time has a superstition as well. The more one eats on Christmas night, the more strength he will have in the next year.
Traditional Christmas food in Estonia includes specialities, like blood sausage and pickled cabbage cooked specially seasoned, and pork andjellied meats. For dessert, the traditional food is marzipan, which according to the legend, was invented in Tallinn, by a pharmacist named Martin, from which the name is derived - Martin's bread.

Of course, Estonians also bake gingerbread or piparkoogid, as they call it. This is a complex process, as all friends and relatives gather together to bake the fancy figured gingerbread men, while having a chat and drinking some hot wine. Also there is a tradition of exchanging self-baked gingerbread with family and friends. Piparkoogid are usually served with Glögi.

Glögi, or mulled wine, is a traditional drink during the Christmas season in Estonia. This is made by heating up red wine together with spices, raisins and nuts. The unforgettable aroma and taste of mulled wine create unforgettable memories of a Christmas spent in Estonia.
Another tradition, brewing traditional beer, has some calling Christmas the "beer holiday." According to legend, the beer has to be brewed at night, so the evil eye would not spoil it. Nowadays, big breweries like Saku prepare a special Christmas beer each year.

Finally on Christmas Eve, the 24th of December, the President announces Christmas Peace. On this day, Estonians restrain from visiting others and stay at home. They prepare food and clean the house. Afterwards, they go to the sauna to wash everything off and put new clothes on. Then everyone goes to church, for Christmas mass. After that, the celebration begins!
It is on Christmas Eve that  presents magically appear under the Christmas tree, put there by the caring hand of Jõuluvana, the Estonian Santa, who arrives from Lapland. Christmas is the perfect mid-winter holiday, allowing for Estonians to enjoy time with their families and to prepare for the big and loud New Year's celebrations.