Seto feasts and holidays

Source: Visit Estonia

Seto feasts and holidays

Setomaa is known for its language, special folk songs, folk costumes, silver jewellery, handicraft, and other traditions. The calculation of dates here is also slightly different. In the event of church holidays, the Seto people follow the so-called old calendar, or Julian calendar: most of the celebrations are held 13 days later than Estonians. Orthodox Setos are known to have around 60 church holidays, plus other major events, and many holidays are held in parallel with the Estonian calendar, so there is a lot to celebrate! It is true that the Seto people like to rejoice, however, several holidays are local and these are generally held only in certain places. If you are interested in witnessing some of the celebrations, you are more than welcome as a small group, but you have to remember to respect the local customs.

The Seto year begins in mid-January. On 14 January, the Seto people have a tradition of saying the following: hääd vanna vahtsõt aastakka (approximate translation: Happy Old New Year). The Seto people do no celebrate Shrove Tuesday. Instead, they have a holiday called maaslenits, or the butter week that lasts for the entire week, when they still have some fun before the beginning of the seven-week fast. But they also ride the slide. The Seto people eat blins instead of traditional sweet rolls (vastlakuklid in Estonian).

Easter (lihavõõdõh) is also a moving holiday for the Seto people, however, there is no 13-day difference when compared to the new calendar. They apply the same rule when calculating the date, but due to the calendar difference, Easter may happen at the same time as elsewhere in Estonia. At the same time, the difference may also be as long as seven weeks. In 2020, Easter will be celebrated in Setomaa on 19 April, a week later than in Estonia. One special part of Easter is the all-night vigil: it takes place the night before Easter Sunday. Candles in hand, people wander around the church in the darkness of the night after the vigil. Magical!

The central place of Easter is a munaloomka – an area made of sand and intended for egg rolling. The loomka is like a smooth double slide (see the video). To play, you have to roll your egg down the loomka or the sand slide and hit another egg. This gives you one point and a chance to try again. The loomka is certainly built in Obinitsa and Värska, but also in other villages.

The biggest holiday of the Värska ChurchSaint George’s Day – is celebrated on 5 May. First, the service is held in the church, then people go to the cemetery to commemorate their ancestors, and in the afternoon they gather on the swinging ground to have a proper kirmask (village festival) there. Similarly, local church holidays are held in other Setomaa churches during the summer: the Luhamaa Church celebrates Pentecost, the most important holiday of Saatse is päätnitsapäiv (the last Friday of July), and paasapäiv (19 August) goes hand in hand with Obinitsa.

Unlike Estonia, jaanipäev or Midsummer’s Day in English, at least the so-called former jaanipäev (7 July), is a local holiday in Setomaa – it is a holiday of the Miikse Church, and it is also celebrated more widely in the village of Treski. Nowadays, Midsummer’s Day is often celebrated in the villages according to the new calendar, like Christmas.

Orthodox Christmas Day (7 January) are called talsipühad in Setomaa. This day is rather different from the Christmas customs of Estonians – there is no Christmas tree in the house, elves do not visit the children, and no presents are made or brought. Instead, they wash eyes with “silver water” (a silver bracelet is placed in an eyewash bowl) and boys visit families with lit candles inside a holder to announce the birth of Christ.

In Setomaa, the ban on working during the holiday has been taken seriously and it continues to be so. It is believed that working during the holidays means bad luck and unhappiness, and many have the proof that this belief is true.

In addition to the church holidays, there are a number of major events celebrated in Setomaa, and people outside Setomaa are welcomed to participate:


Last updated : 26.02.2020

In category: South Estonia, History & culture