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EU > Estonia > Viljandi

Traditions and Events

Viljandi, EE (View on map)

My one-day stop in Viljandi, in the centre of Estonia, is a perfect one to report about Estonian folklore. Viljandi is home to Estonia`s only Cultural Academy: a place where people can study all sorts of Performing Arts, including dance, theatre and even handicraft. It is also in the building of this academy that one of Estonia`s main folklore festivals is organised. It`s the one here in Viljandi, the city of Ancient Beat.

Liina (24):

`The Viljandi folklore festival is one of the biggest in the Baltics`
Thanks to the kind help of Kristiina (27), I am able to meet Liina (24, photo) who is one of the 10 people who work on the organisation of the Viljandi folklore festival. She tells me how during four days in July of each year, the population of Viljandi gets doubled by the many folklore fans who find their way to the biggest folklore festival in the Baltic countries.

Then and now
The history of the event goes back 15 years in time, when now-director Ando Kiviberg, for the first time transformed his birthday party into a general open-air event. Being a bagpipe player himself, he greatly enjoyed making music with people and started inviting folklore artists over. The festival has grown beyond its small scope: it now occupies five stages for professional musicians and pretty much all of the rest of the `centre` for all sorts of related activities.

Visitors can enjoy listening to music performances and theatre plays, possibly participate in a few of them, learn how to make instruments, get introduced to the making of clothes and, through this all, learn a lot about the heritage of the Estonian culture. The festival is very kid-friendly but attracts people from all age groups.

Singing, dancing and drinking seem to be very important activities in Estonian life. Jani, or mid-summer, is another event that involves a lot of songs, dances and drinks. It takes place in the night of 23 to 24 June and is not limited to Estonian tradition alone. Lithuania, Latvia and all Scandinavian countries have similar traditions to celebrate the longest day of the year. On Jaani, people light a big bonfire to sing and dance around it all night. Big cities now invite pop and rock artists to the scene but in smaller cities, people wear traditional clothes and eat, dance and drink with each other. `A nice way of spending time with other people`, says Aivar (19), who admits that a lot of new love couples are composed during Jaani.

More parties
Other events that take place throughout the year include Independence Day, Christmas and New Year`s Eve. Independence Day (1917) is not a very special day to Eigo (33): `It`s my birthday so I have my own celebrations. And during the second Independance Day (1991) it`s my son`s birthday so it`s a bit of the same story.` Independence Day is more of a political event than a party for the people. Small-scale parades may take place on a local scale but the popular involvement is by not any means comparable to the Jaani celebrations.

Christmas is preferably celebrated within family circles. Modest presents are exchanged by older people, or brought by Santa Claus to the kids. The dining table and Christmas tree are to Christmas like what the bonfire is to Jaani. Or, like Mikola (25) heard a travelling friend of his once say: `Estonians really only eat twice a year, at Jani and at Christmas`.

Fireworks and friends visits are not common at Christmas, those are kept for New Year`s Eve. Once that is done and dealt with, Estonia starts awaiting the arrival of another summer season!

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