Estonians Light up Tbilisi Sea for Victory Day

The Ambassador of Estonia to Georgia, Mr Priit Turk, decided to take a step closer to his childhood home in the Estonian islands by celebrating this year’s June 23 Estonian Victory Day at the Tbilisi Sea Club amongst his compatriots and multinational colleagues and friends.

Guests were treated to a generous spread of Georgian food and wine while being serenaded under starry fairy-lights by a local music group and live singer.

As well as sharing with guests his thanks for their being present, Mr. Turk also used the occasion to wish farewell to Defence Attache LTC Teet Kivisson, whose term has ended and who will be returning to Estonia shortly. The Ambassador gifted Mr. Kivisson with a Georgian sword: “As a symbol of the strength of Georgia and friendship.”

Georgia Today spoke to the Ambassador and his wife about Victory Day and Midsummer’s Eve and how they would normally be celebrating them back home.

Victory Day on 23rd June marks a crucial military victory against German forces in 1919 and is celebrated with a military parade in one of the Estonian towns (every year a different town). Midsummer’s Eve (Jaaniхhtu) is celebrated on the same day as Victory Day and the festivities continue into the next day, which is named after St John.

“When I was growing up, all the families would head out to their country houses,” said Ambassador Priit Turk, who originally comes from Saaremaa (the biggest island in Estonia). “One of the traditions is to light a bonfire [and according to old tradition to jump over it!] and in the islands we used to light up the wood of old boats, to say thank you to the gods for the fish that had been caught. June 24th is St John’s Day and another tradition of ours is not to sleep during that night- there is practically no darkness at that time of year –and so everyone stays up and enjoys themselves with their families. We also never lower the national flag on the night of the 23rd- keeping it hoisted for the full two days.”

“Despite the fact that St John’s Day is known in the World as a Christian holiday, Estonians have rather non-religious traditions in celebrating this day,“ added Pirjo Turk, the Ambassador’s wife.“ The bonfire part is the most important. Midsummer Eve (on 23rd) and Jaanipдev (on 24th) is one of the biggest celebrations in Estonia and in addition to the bonfire, eating, drinking, dancing and singing are also part of this celebration. Most of all it’s a day of connecting.”

Mrs. Turk remembers her childhood Victory Day celebrations with nostalgia. “I remember as a child really looking forward to the day- there was a huge build up of expectation from the dark winter, and sadness when Midsummer had passed and it would start to get dark again. On Midsummer’s Eve [on Victory Day] the families gather and in my childhood we prepared a singing program to perform for the adults. Then around midnight (when it gets a bit darker) everyone in our family headed out to find the Jaan worms [glow worms] hiding in the grass in warm places around this time of year. I remember we walked near the train tracks in order to find them. The person who sees the glow worm first, can make a wish.”

While there were sadly no opportunities for glow-worm hunting at the Tbilisi party this year, there was a symbolic bonfire. Ambassador Turk declined to jump over it, however.

Katie Ruth Davies

25 June 2015 22:49