I just got back to Tartu after zooming up to Tallinn yesterday evening for a few meetings. All was fine until my taxi pulled out of the bus station in Tallinn. There we met a small army of chlldren, all with backpacks and colored T shirts. Of course! It is Estonia’s Song Festibal time. Thousands of people are converging on Tallinn to participate.
If you havenotseen this, you don’t know what you are missing. It looks a bit like this
Yup. It is a big crowd. And everyone who comes, comes to sing — at least some of the time.
This only happens once every four years, so it is a very big deal. Why do it? The tradition goes back to the 19th century, during a period that is called the Estonian Awakening. Up to that point in time, Estonians had been serfs to Baltic German landowners for nearly 800 years or so. In the mid to late 19th century, they found themselves able to buy their own land, and they were sending their kids to school. This produced an explosion of feeling about Estonian identity – hence the word awakening. And Estonian songs were a natural way of expressing this identity. Song festivals seemed entirely logical to Estonians, even if a bit peculiar to outsiders.
So let’s hope that this year’s festival goes well!