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PHOTO: The Müra/karu (Rambunctious Bears) cub scouts of Tormi/linnu lipkond (Storm Bird troop), Rävala malev (Tallinn area) were getting ready for mardipäev, St. Martin's Day or Martinmas at the Eesti Vabaõhumuuseum or Open Air Museum (Pioneer Village) last weekend. This included learning riddles and songs, making masks and eating the appropriate fare including kuke/supp or rooster soup with klimbid (dumplings).   Photo: Riina Kindlam


If you're into saving money, resources and the environment and if you love downsizing, upcycling and do-it-yourself'ing, then mardipäev in Estonia is your perfect alternative to the spend-fest that Hallowe'en has largely become in the West.


You only have to push the holiday ahead by a little over a week to November 10th, the eve before the actual day. The name Martin has itself been downsized, with its Estonian version becoming Mart and Märt centuries ago.
They are not called trick-or-treaters, but mardi/sandid or Mart's beggars. They do ultimately trick or treat by visiting homes and asking to be let in by singing or chanting an archaic verse or two. Once inside, they perform for treats, but may also present riddles called mõistatused or challenge the host family to a dare or some sort of test of skill. No zombies, skeletons or cobwebs are displayed. (Local Balto-Finnic pagan traditions that have trickled down to this day contain sufficient elements of earlier worship of the dead. These are not so much scary, as sacred and veiled in mystery, predating Christianity and the knowledge of anyone named Martinus.) Kõrvitsad (pumpkins) are made into soup or pickled, not carved.


Mardi attire is simple, you just need to be more male looking (Mart is a man after all) and preferably as unrecognizable as possible. Pile on the clothes, the furrier and hairier your look, the better. Then take a piece of soot or ash from the fireplace and smear it on your face or make a mask. At the Vaba/õhu/muuseum, the kids were given a piece of cardboard, into which they cut holes to see and breathe and then slits, into which they stuffed takk to make kulmud (eyebrows), a vunts (moustache) and habe (beard). Simple! Takk, genitive taku = tow (rhymes with cow), are the course broken fibres resulting from dressing flax (lina) or hemp (kanep), i.e. removing the straws from the fibres.


During the period in the fall when souls are believed to move about and visit their families, the noisy mardisandid were thought to drive away any possible evil spirits lurking about in the mix. They were thereby seen as bearers of good fortune, especially for next year's crops, and were given treats. Needless to say, there are no packages of mini candy bars sold in Estonia prior to mardipäev. Be prepared to sweep your floor post-visit though, one of their jokes / harbingers of good fortune is to toss dried peas...


Kadripäev or St. Katherine's Day is your next chance to practise a similar, no frills fall ritual. This is also a trick-or-treat type evening on Nov. 25. The attire is white and the sex of the sandid or beggars makes a switch to (at least seemingly) female. The Estonian Open Air Museum is celebrating kadripäev more extensively this year. Go to and scroll down to "24. novembril tähistame kadrilaupäeva!" to see what they have in store. The text is available in Estonian.


Riina Kindlam,


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