Autumn's spiritual harvest holidays

Source: Visit Estonia

Autumn's spiritual harvest holidays

Late autumn is the time when harvests conclude, the weather cools and the days grow shorter. In Estonia, as in many northern countries, this season is associated with the visiting of departed souls and good luck rituals. Halloween is one such holiday during this period, but Estonia has its own local variations: Mardi- and Kadripäev.


The end of September through Christmas is a time in many countries when souls visit the living. This period coincides with the end of harvests and agricultural activity, as well as the darkest part of the year and the beginning of winter. It was believed that one had to please visiting souls to ensure protection for crops, sheep and cattle by not speaking or working on certain days, and most importantly, offering the souls food.

Rural life

Estonia has its origins as an agricultural society, with many people depending in the past on farming and livestock for sustenance. 

Photo by: Visit Estonia

Mardi- and Kadripäev

Two holidays occur during November in Estonia: Martinmas (Mardipäev) on November 10th and St. Catherine's Day (Kadripäev) on November 25th. On both holidays, children traditionally visited houses around the village singing, telling riddles and collecting sweets.

Soul food

In the old days, only the best potatoes, meats and dairy products were set out in rural households as offerings to visiting spirits.

Photo by: Danel Rinaldo

On Martinmas children were led by a mardi-father, dressed in dark clothing and made plenty of noise by playing instruments or banging pots. Their arrival to houses was meant to bring harvest luck. The procession was followed by a village party where goose was served for good luck.

On St. Catherine's Day children were led by a kadri-mother and wore light coloured women's clothing. Kama, porridge, beans and peas were eaten along with homemade beer on this day. Kadri, a common female name in Esotnia, is also the guardian spirit of cattle, thus the holiday was meant to bring luck to cows and sheep through the winter.

Contemporary customs 

Modern day Estonia is not the agricultural society it once was, but Martinmas and St. Catherine's Day continue to be celebrated by young people, particularly in small towns and the countryside. School children dress in dark colours on Martinmas and sing the mardilaul (Mart's song) to be let in at the door and wear light colours and sing the kadrilaul (Kadri's song) on St. Catherine's Day. Echoes of the traditional way of life, connected to the seasons and harvests, can still be seen this November.

Continued celebration 

Mardi & Kadripäev remain popular holidays for children and students, similar to Halloween in other countries.

Photo by: Stina Kase
Last updated : 27.10.2020

In category: Family holidays