Where do Estonians disappear to for the summer?

A couple of days after the summer solstice, on 23 June, Estonian cities empty of people.Those that can go to the country to celebrate one of the most important feasts for Estonians, jaanipäev (St John’s Day). Jaaniöö (St John’s Night) marks the brightest time of the year – when darkness only lasts a couple of hours, and people light large bonfires, dance and sing around them, often all night long.

Estonian Midsummer bonfire. Photo by: Enterprise Estonia

But simply spending weekends or holidays in the country is also a very Estonian thing to do. In their summer homes Estonians hoe, weed, create vegetable and flower beds, grow herbs, build, and then, if there is some time left over, relax. Time in the country often includes going to sauna. The smoke sauna tradition in Võromaa is included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. 

Estonians enjoy spending time outdoors in general. Almost a quarter of Estonia’s territory is classified as nature reserves.  Bumping into each other in summer, Estonians invariably ask where and when the other has gone swimming lately. Because having gone swimming proves that summer has not been wasted. The Estonian summer is not the longest, but the coast boasts kilometres of sandy beaches, and then there are all the rivers and lakes. Winter swimming is gaining popularity too, by the way.

Classic Estonian sauna by the countryside. Photo by: Magnus Heinmets / Enterprise Estonia

The rest of the year Estonians consume culture. Similarly to other northern European countries with long winters and rainy autumns, the consumption of culture is high in Estonia. The population of 1.3 million manage to visit museums 3.4 million times a year, while 3.5 million visits are made to the cinema, 2 million to concerts,and 1.2 million to theatres. Estonians are the leading theatregoers in the world. 

Next to jaanipäev, jõulud (yuletide, or Scandinavian ‘jule’) is the most important holiday for Estonians;it is celebrated during the darkest time of the year just after winter solstice. The name ‘jõulud’ alludes to the pre-Christian roots of this tradition. Nowadays, jõulud is primarily a family-centred holiday. People decorate their Christmas trees on 24 December, have a festive meal, and wait for Santa Claus or elves to arrive with a Santa sack. 

Annual Tallinn Old Town Christmas Market. Photo by: Karl Markus Antson / Enterprise Estonia