Autumn's spiritual holidays

Source: Visit Estonia

Autumn's spiritual holidays

Late autumn is the time when harvests are coming to an end, the weather cools and the days grow shorter. In Estonia, as in many northern countries, this time of year is associated with the visiting of departed souls and rituals for good luck. Halloween is one holiday during this period, but Estonia has its own local variations known as Mardipäev and Kadripäev.


The end of September until Christmas is a time in many countries when it is said that departed souls may 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 their crops, sheep and cattle by not speaking or working on certain days, and most importantly, offering food to the departed souls.

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

The holidays of Mardipäev and Kadripäev

In Estonia, there are two major holidays that occur in November - Martinmas (Mardipäev) on November 10th and St. Catherine's Day (Kadripäev) on November 25th. For both holidays, children traditionally visited houses around the village singing, telling riddles and collecting sweets.

Food for departed souls

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 are 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 good fortune for the harvest. The procession was followed by a village party where goose meat was served for further good luck.

Kadripäev (St. Catherine's Day) has more of a focus on women and in the folk calendar, it marks the end of autumn and the beginning of winter. To celebrate, children are led by a kadri-mother and wear light-coloured women's clothing. Kama, porridge, beans and peas are eaten along with homemade beer on this day. Kadri, a common female name in Estonia, is also the guardian spirit of cattle, thus the holiday was meant to bring luck to cows and sheep through the winter. Connecting back to the role, it's traditional to leave sheep un-sheared in the days between Mardipäev and Kadripäev.

Contemporary customs 

Modern-day Estonia is no longer 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 still 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.

Continuing the celebration 

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

Photo by: Stina Kase
Last updated : 28.09.2022

In category: History & culture