Estonia looks set for its first white Christmas in a few years this year, with much of the country now lying under snow cover and temperatures between now and Christmas day forecast to remain below zero at all times.
Whereas Christmas temperatures in recent years have been mild in much of the country (for instance day temperatures this time last year were well above zero, with no snow), a recent cold snap over much of northeastern Europe has brought a snow covering across the whole country unlikely to melt any time soon.
Tallinn and the northeast coast has apparently recorded the coldest temperatures so far, falling to double-digit minus values after dark and in the mornings, whereas as is often the case, the western island archipelago, particularly Saaremaa, has been experiencing less harsh temperatures of just a couple of degrees below.
More unusually, temperatures in South Estonia, including the second city of Tartu, have been slightly milder than in Tallinn. The region often experiences lower temperatures than the capital and northwest, mostly due to its remoteness from the moderating influence of the Baltic Sea.
Lake ice open to public
The snowfall arrived a few days ago, but has been somewhat light since then, and is likely to remain so through to mid-week next week.
One of the check-boxes that winter has truly arrived can also now be crossed out, namely the freezing over of Lake Peipus, the large lake dominating the eastern border region of Estonia, to the extent that its surface is open to pedestrian traffic.
The Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) announced on Friday that from the following day, ie. 22 December, the public was permitted to walk on Lake Peipus' ice up to a distance of 3 km from the western shore in Tartu and Jõgeva Counties (the Lake is over 50 km wide at its extreme point, and well over 100 km in length, north to south, when the connecting lake system of Lämmijärv and Pihkva is included).
The announcement follows PPA monitoring of the ice formation; average thickness needs to be at a certain value (reported as anything from 5-20 cm) across the whole lake before it is declared safe to walk on. Vehicles remain forbidden on the lake ice. Moreover, caution must be exercised due to uneven levels of ice thickness potentially causing movement of plates of ice.
Jalmar Ernits, head of the Mustvee PPA border station, said that further precautions including taking a fully charged mobile phone, a navigation device, crampons or similar spiked equipment and informing others on land of the intention to walk on the lake ice, are essential.
"When venturing on to the ice, people must take into account their health condition and assess their energy levels to ensure they will later get back to their loved ones without problems," Mr Ernits told BNS.
The PPA also recommends registering ice-bound activities at the closest PPA station both before and after partaking in them.
In addition to Lake Peipus, the public is permitted on the lake ice adjacent to the Estonian side of Lake Lämmijärv (through which the border with the Russian Federation also runs; Lake Pihkva lies in its entirety within the Russian Federation).
The public is also permitted on other nearby lakes not part of the Peipus-Lämmijärv-Pihkva system, including Lake Pattina, Lake Pabra and Lake Kriiva, which also run along the Estonian-Russian border.
History and tradition
Historically, Lake Peipus (Estonian: Peipsi Järv) was still sufficiently frozen in early April 1242 to be the venue of a major battle between the Knights of the Teutonic Order and Novgorod (ie. Russian) forces under Prince Aleksander Nevsky.
As per tradition, the Mayor of Tallinn is to make a Christmas announcement from Tallinn's town hall on Christmas Eve, 24 December.
Mayor Taavi Aas (Centre) will read the peace-themed message from a window in the buiding in Raekoja Plats at 12.00 EET, a practice reportedly dating back to the 17th Century, when Estonia was under Swedish rule.
As in much of Northern Europe, Christmas celebrations focus on Christmas Eve, although 25 December is also a holiday in Estonia.
Editor: Andrew Whyte