Despite the many upheavals experienced throughout their national
history, Estonian culture remains very strong both in their
homeland, where aspects of their culture such as song festivals
served as a rallying cry against foreign oppression throughout their years
occupation, and within their adoptive homelands where those same
aspects of culture helped them to foster new ties and a new sense of
In terms of religious traditions, most Estonians are Christian and
many of these are of the Lutheran faith. The
Estonian language is thought by many to be older than the ancient
language of Sanskrit and Estonian artisans are known around the
world for their beautiful woodworking, pottery, leatherwork,
silversmithing, embroidery and printmaking. Estonia has produced
several world-class composers and conductors, as well as numerous
World and Olympic champions in wrestling, skiing and athletics.
Some of the more notable Estonian culinary delights include black
bread made of rye, mukgikapsad, which is a dish of sauerkraut, pearl barley
and pork. Other foods include blood and barley sausage, headcheese, cabbage rolls
and herring. Estonian people often garden and enjoy fruits and
fruit dishes as well. Some such dishes might include kisell, which
is a sauce made from fruits like rhubarb, apple and strawberries
and is often served over cereal or as a dessert.
An important time for many Estonian Albertans is the midsummer
solstice festival or Jaanipäev. The rural community of
Gilby, northwest of Red Deer, was an early Estonian settlement and
still proudly celebrates this Estonian holiday. Jaanipäev was celebrated long before the arrival of Christianity in Estonia, although the day was given its name by the crusaders.
For Estonians, Jaanipäev celebrations were merged with the celebration of
Võidupüha (Victory Day) during the War of Independence
when successful battles were waged against both German and Russian
troops in the summer and fall of 1919. After these battles against Estonia's traditional oppressors,
Jaaniõhtu and the lighting of the traditional bonfires became linked with the ideals independence and freedom.
Jaanipäev also marks a change in the farming year, specifically the break between the completion of spring sowing and the hard work of summer hay-making.
Understandably, some of the rituals of Jaanipäev have very strong folkloric roots. The best-known
Jaanik, or midsummer, ritual is the lighting of the bonfire and the jumping over it. This is seen as a way of guaranteeing prosperity and avoiding bad luck. Likewise, to not light the fire is to invite the destruction of your house by fire. The fire also frightened away mischievous spirits who avoided it at all costs, thus ensuring a good harvest. So, the bigger the fire, the further the mischievous spirits stayed away.
During their occupation of Estonia, the Soviets made no attempt to stop Jaanipäev celebrations. For Estonians, however,
Jaanipäev remained tied to Estonia's victory during the War of Independence and the securing of a free and independent state.
Jaanipäev, therefore, always reminded Estonians of their independence in the past, despite Soviet attempts to eliminate such
ideas and continues to remind Estonians of the struggles they have
faced as a nation, and the importance of maintaining their
This digital collection was
produced with financial assistance from Canada's Digital
Collections initiative, Industry Canada.