Ilus Eesti, beautiful Estonia. My family's homeland. Estonia's countryside and people have an endearing gentleness about them which you fall in love with slowly and imperceptibly. I have nothing but respect and admiration for Estonians' courage and determination to survive despite centuries of repression, tyranny and foreign occupation. This blog showcases all the things I love about Estonia and seeks to enlighten readers about everything this unique country has to offer.
I'm proud to say there are several men in my family who fought during the Estonian War of Independence. Their courage will never be forgotten and will always be remembered each time we celebrate Estonian independence.
My family's heroes are:
Captain Paul Lesthal - later went on become the director of Eesti Lloyd in Tallinn.
Major Karl Niggul - after the war he became a judge.
Hans Lesthal - head pharmacist in the Estonian Army.
Major General Martin Jervan, my first cousin thrice removed (son of my great, great aunt) was a career military offiicer. After the war he was a doctor and head of the of the Estonian Army medical services from 1935-1940. Sadly, in 1941 he was arrested and executed by the occupying Soviet forces. Martin, along with one of my other relatives, Woldemar Rieberg was awarded the "Cross of Liberty."
And like most little boys who grew up hearing stories of their uncles fighting for victory, my grandfather Alexander looked up to the heroes in our family.
Estonia commemorated the 95th anniversary of the first of many military threats to its proclaimed independence with candle-lighting and wreath-laying ceremonies in two locations in Tallinn.
“I call on Estonians to light candles at graves and memorials to those who fought for Estonia, to remember our forebears’ heroism and courage in the early days of the War of Independence,” said Defense Minister Urmas Reinsalu.
Reinsalu spoke at the Cross of Liberty monument in central Tallinn this afternoon. A ceremony was held earlier at the Defense Forces Cemetery as well.
He added that Estonian self-reliance was crucial to achieving freedom. “Our state was forged with iron and blood. In the War of Independence, our grandfathers and great-grandfathers fulfilled our people’s ancient dream of independence and statehood. From out of the fires of the War of Independence, they brought freedom.”
With a power vacuum developing after the German surrender in World War I, on November 28, 1918, 7,000 men in the 6th Rifle Division of the Red Army attacked Estonia from across the Narva River, where they were met by Estonian national forces - the predecessor of the Defense Forces.
They had only 2,200 men at the time, and no heavy artillery. They were joined by 14,000 in the Defense League The rest of the year was dark for the Estonians, with the Red forces capturing Tartu and driving to within 40 kilometers of Tallinn. Only with the appointment of Gen. Johan Laidoner as commander, a mobilization, and foreign aid did things start turning around by early January 1919.
No Christmas is complete in Estonia without the traditional piparkoogid cookies on the table. They're easy to make, fun to decorate, a project the whole family can enjoy! I made my first batch of the season on the weekend and I'm sure they'll be more baking away in my oven soon!
700g plain flour
200g brown sugar
150g honey or golden syrup
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cardemon
2 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
1tsp ground nutmeg
250g butter (cubed)
2 large eggs
3 tsp baking soda
Pinch of ground pepper
Combine 400g icing with one egg white
1. Mix the sugar, honey/syrup and all spices in a saucepan and bring to the simmer.
2. Add the cubed butter and stir until the butter melts. Remove from the heat and cool.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigoursly with a wooden spoon.
4. Mix flour and baking soda then add gradually to the sugar and spice mix.
5. Knead the dough until all ingredients are thoroughly combined.
6. Wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for 4 hours or even better - overnight.
7. To make the cookie, place the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll until 3mm thick.
8. Cut the desired shapes and place onto a tray lined with baking paper.
9. Bake for 10 minutes at 180 degrees.
Researching my family history has brought me so much pleasure over the years. Often the little finds lead to big discoveries, slowly joining all the dots together. Last week whilst in Tallinn I sat in the Estonian archives office sifting through files; old military records, property documents and the like, learning many wonderful new things about my family. Viewing their hand written letters almost brought tears to my eyes!
Today I learnt another interesting fact about my family history. I always knew my great grandparents were married in St. Petersburg but I never knew exactly where. I discovered today that the church in question was the St. Michael's Lutheran Church in St. Petersburg. It was purpose built for the Estonian and German communities living in this part of Russia.
St. Michael's, located at 32/18a Sredny Avenue, Vasillevsky Island was designed by Karl von Buhmering. Construction of the gothic style church took place between 1874-1876 and it could seat 800 people. In 1909 St. Michael's reportedly had a congregation of 2,000 people which included my family - my great grandparents were married there in 1912.
Today the much anticipated Christmas tree was erected in Tallinn's Town Hall Square. The tree will soon be covered in an array of lights and snow, thus becoming the centrepiece of Christmas in this beautiful city. It's always a joy to visit Tallinn at Christmas time - there's no place quite like it!
As revealed by a groundbreaking study into durability of song and dance festivals, the tradition is very strong indeed for now – but cannot be taken for granted.
The study "My Song and Dance Celebration", ordered by Estonian Song and Dance Celebration Foundation, an absolute majority i.e. 96 per cent of the 1,000 plus people interviewed considers Song and Dance Celebrations an important event. What’s more: two thirds deem it very important.
A half of those questioned had personally participated in song and dance celebrations; two thirds had been involved multiple times, at least as spectators.
In spite of fears and prejudices we may occasionally harbour regarding the youth, it appears that the song and dance celebration does have very strong roots, acknowledged Marju Lauristin, the main engine of the study.
On the other hand: even though a very sustainable tradition right now, this is not to be taken overly for granted, as we may detect certain shifts and changes, she added.
According to Ms Lauristin, the study did prove the grand festival has turned into a ritual of great dignity, elation, national awareness – related to statehood.
On the other hand, for the youth especially, it is another kind of emotional excitement, not so much related to national elation; rather, it’s the immediate participation with no clear institutional framework, commented Ms Lauristin. Surely, these two are not contradictory by nature.
According to Ms Lauristin, it may be said that as at 2013 the tradition – called by her the main root text of Estonianhood – stands steadfast and may seem unshakeable.
We shouldn’t be so careless and think it will stand all by itself. Looking some 10 or 20 years ahead, issues may arise should we not consider these now: will the kids of today’s 15 and 25 year olds still sing and dance? asked the social scientist. Will they still be willing to do their singing and dancing in the traditional song and dance festival format? Will it keep playing a role that large?
These questions, in Ms Lauristin, were triggered by the way the youth relate to the festival tradition. With the attitudes projected by youth, it is more of the grassroots, networking, freewheeling around the values, thereby altering the essence of the values, said she.
Ms Lauristin explained it is not the issue of the youth always being different; rather, it is the changes in the contemporary, postmodernist world.
The world of today is a bit more fragmented; with more emphasis on the immediate, present-day experience. The issue being: how largely will the globalisation, the international postmodernist currents impact our song and dance celebration tradition, mused Ms Lauristin.
A large percentage of those questioned were of the opinion that song and dance celebration is a process worthy of state support. For most, it is not entertainment.
According to Sten Weidebaum, information chief at Song and Dance Celebration Foundation and author of idea/narrative of the 2014 event, the study serves to prove that youth celebrations have an especially vital role in maintaining the tradition.
The key to sustainability of the process is offering the youth options for participation; considering the way they esteem involvement, opportunity to sing and dance along – rather than sit as spectators, said he.
Song festivals dating back a century and a half, on November 7th Estonia’s traditions, together with those of Latvia and Lithuania, celebrate ten years of being listed as UNESCO cultural heritage.
If you live in Europe and want to go somewhere fun and exciting next weekend, why not consider Tallinn? There's a lot happening in the Estonian capital next week - here's a few temptations for you!
1. St. Martin Day is a bit like Halloween in Estonia. Children dress up and knock on strangers doors, sing songs and dance in exchange for candy. Sure to bring a smile to anyone's face!
2. St.Martin's Day Fair
Estonia's largest craft and folk art fair. It spands over four days - Thursday to Sunday and has a huge selection of Estonian made goods. Not to be missed! http://www.folkart.ee/eng/st-martins-day-fair
3. Madonna tribute singer Tanja Mikhailova will perform live in concert on Saturday night.
4. And don't forget Father's Day! Father's Day is celebrated in November in Estonia, this year on November 10!
Here's a little poem I found online that pretty much sums up how I feel about my Dad!
Dad - you're one in a million! The best!