Easter can mean a whole lot of different things in Estonian:
- Munadepühad – eggs holidays. This is our most common name for Easter. It most likely comes from the tradition of painting eggs on Easter Sunday. Eggs symbolise new life in the Pagan and Chrisitan tradition. But as Estonia is the most irreligious country in the world (I say this with no pride) it mostly means hours of fun while painting eggs using onion peels, leaves, flowers, yarn and egg paint. The painted eggs are displayed on kitchen tables all over the country and given as gifts to friends, families and colleagues. People usually do a munakoksimine, which literally means cracking the eggs. This is a little ’game’ in which two people hold a boiled painted egg and they crack the eggs against each other. The one whose egg breaks first gets to keep the other person’s egg. This tradition results in a flood of boiled egg recipes after Easter and a sudden increase in flatulence. In old tradition a painted yellow egg was put amongst grains of wheat about to be planted. This superstition was believed to make the wheat grow as golden and beautiful as the egg.
- Lihavõtted – literally: taking meat. I believe this name comes from Orthodox Christianity, where the lent preceding Easter defines strict dietary constraints. Oil, meat, wine and cooked food are forbidden on certain days during lent. Thursday (Quiet Thursday) before Good Friday should be one’s last substantial meal until the end of the midnight service on Easter Sunday. A lot of people use this word to describe Easter, but the Christian meaning has got so lost that I doubt very many people think about the meaning of the word.
- Ülestõusmispühad – resurrection holidays. The clue is in the name here. This word is surprisingly used quite often, but again, the meaning is probably not pondered upon for too long. The service on Easter Sunday is called ülestõusmisjumalateenistus meaning resurrection God’s service.
- Kevadpühad – spring holidays. This name is connected to the time of the year (obviously) and used to be more important when more people lived off the land. Easter symbolises new life in spiritual sense as well as agricultural sense. It is the season when buds appear on trees, snow melts, vegetables are planted and work can start in the fields. People usually bring some birch branches or willow tree branches with catkins on them and display them in their house. Back in the old days people used to soak the brances in water and then wash their face with that water, which was believed to keep them young for a long time. As you know the Estonian winter is very long and dark, so these first signs of life are very special.
- Paasapühad – pascha holidays. This term is used by a very small group of people called the Seto, who live in south-east Estonia and usually belong in the Orthodox church. Pascha comes from the Hebrew word pesah, meaning Passover. Paasapühad is usually a week before Easter as they follow the Orthodox calendar. They also make a delicious dessert called pascha, which I also made this year. It was unsurprisingly delicious.
- Kiigepühad – swinging holidays. As some of you may know there are a lot of large village swings in Estonia, which used to be the focal point of the village. There used to be a special season (from spring to autumn) for swinging and today’s Easter would be the start of that season. Swinging was believed to be magical and songs and verses were chanted on the swing. This name is hardly ever used in today’s world and to be honest I have never heard anyone use it.The animal we usually associate with Easter is actually a bird – a chick, but the Easter bunny is gaining more fame year by year. We don’t really have a great tradition of egg hunt or chocolate eggs, but we eat a lot of kohupiim or curd (there isn’t a correct translation into English for this dairy product, which is made by heating sour milk) products that are usually in pastry or cake form.
I get the feeling that Easter in Estonia is generally a holiday to ‘spend time with friends and family’, which does happen, but it is mostly just a long weekend with unusually large amount of eggs consumed. Christmas definitely gets more attention in both religious and non-religious circles.
David and I had a very quiet Easter. We only get the Good Friday off in Estonia, so nobody makes huge plans usually. We did go to half a church service in the Lutherian church across the road from us. The service used religious folk verse songs, which means they were in various regional dialects. One lady would sing the verse and the congregation would repeat it. There were about 10 people altogether and we left after the sermon since David still has a long way to go before he starts understanding regional languages in Estonia.
We enjoyed the sweltering heat of 19 degrees, had a braai, went for a painful run and got slightly sunburnt. But now I must go and make some munavõi (egg butter – grated eggs mixed with soft butter and salt).