Estonian Culture

Estonian culture, customs and etiquette

Nestled on the shores of the Baltic Sea, Estonia is a country rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. From its medieval towns to its thriving arts scene, Estonian culture is a captivating blend of tradition, innovation, and resilience.

Cultural Diversity and Heritage

Estonian culture is a blend of influences from its indigenous Finno-Ugric roots, medieval history, and more recent Nordic and Baltic connections. Throughout its history, Estonia has been shaped by various civilisations, including Vikings, Germans, Swedes, and Russians, each leaving their mark on the country’s language, architecture, cuisine, and traditions.

Today, Estonia is known for its dynamic arts scene, technological innovation, and strong sense of national identity.

Festivals and Celebrations

Estonia celebrates a variety of cultural festivals and events throughout the year, each with its own unique customs and traditions. One such festival is Jaanipäev, or Midsummer’s Day, celebrated on June 24th to mark the summer solstice.

Festivities include bonfires, singing, dancing, and the making of wreaths from wildflowers, as well as traditional games and rituals to ward off evil spirits. This ancient pagan festival is one of the most important holidays in the Estonian calendar.

Another significant event is the Song and Dance Celebration, held every five years to celebrate Estonian culture and identity through music, dance, and folklore. The celebration features mass choir performances, folk dance displays, and theatrical productions, as well as exhibitions, workshops, and lectures on Estonian history and culture.

Estonia’s Independence Day

Estonia’s Independence Day, (formally the Anniversary of the Republic of Estonia) celebrated on February 24th, is a significant national holiday that commemorates the country’s declaration of independence from Russia in 1918.

Festivities include flag-raising ceremonies, parades, concerts, and cultural events, with Estonians coming together to honour their history, heritage, and resilience as a nation.

Social Etiquette and Customs

Respect for others and a sense of humility are fundamental values in Estonian society. Estonians value personal space and privacy, and it’s important to respect boundaries in social interactions. Punctuality is highly valued in Estonian culture, so it’s important to arrive on time for appointments and social gatherings.

Estonians value politeness, modesty, and respect for personal space in social interactions. Greetings are typically informal, with a handshake and direct eye contact.

Estonians are known for their reserved nature and may appear shy or reserved at first, but they are warm and welcoming once they get to know you.

It’s important to show appreciation for hospitality and generosity, and to avoid discussing sensitive topics like politics or religion unless invited to do so.

It might be tempting to practice your Russian as around 25 per cent of Estonia’s population is Russian speaking. A foreigner starting a conversation in Russian in the first place is, however, seen as extremely rude by Estonians.

Sharing meals is a central aspect of Estonian hospitality, with gatherings often revolving around traditional dishes like sült (jellied meat), verivorst (blood sausage), and kama (a porridge made from grains and buttermilk).

When dining in Estonia, it is polite to wait for the host to begin eating before you start. Table manners are important, and it is customary to keep your hands visible on the table and to refrain from resting your elbows.

From its vibrant song and dance festivals to its deep respect for nature and its rich literary heritage, Estonia offers a wealth of experiences for visitors to discover and enjoy.

By embracing its cultural heritage and upholding values of respect, politeness, and environmental stewardship, Estonia continues to enchant and inspire people from around the world.