Estonia has stood on the cultural dividing line between Eastern and Western Europe for centuries. The impact such a position has had on the characteristic features of the folk culture is tremendous. The Estonian cultural scene can be characterised by a multitude of peculiarities, the origins of which date back to the distant past. In order to understand Estonian folk culture, it has to be recognised that this is a highly complicated and multilayered way of existence for a small nation who used to belong to the lower social status in its own country.
Besides large and culturally fairly homogeneous areas there are a number of small regions with a very specific character of their own. Northern Estonia has for a long time been far more open than Southern Estonia to various innovations.The most distinctive region is Setumaa which is located in southeastern Estonia and was separated from the rest of Estonia for long periods of time, thus developing a culture of their own with strong Russian influences; this culture has to a certain extent survived up to today. Another peculiar area was Mulgimaa, the central part of the former Sakala county. In this region many things, such as patterns dating back to the Middle Ages, sacrificial gardens, were preserved for a long time. Some of the ancient dishes originating from this region (e.g. Mulgi cabbage, curd cakes, and kama – roast mixed grains) have become popular all over Estonia.
However, despite regional differences, there were also unifying features of the ancient Estonian folk culture. The most distinctive among such common features were the runo songs, the barn-dwelling as the most typical farmhouse, and soft fermented black bread. Other common features included the traditional ways of celebrating weddings and the Yuletide, counting the sowing weeks, and the tradition of the ‘souls' visiting time’.
Nowadays there are several organisations that are involved with the investigation and presentation of oral and material folk culture such as the Estonian Folklore Archive, the Estonian National Museum, the Estonian Open-Air Museum and many local museums across the country.