Kolm tuld: Jüriöö, võidupüha, laulupidu [Abstract: Three fires: St. George’s Night, Victory Day and the Song Festival]


  • Marge Allandi




The subject of this article is the relationship between cultural memory and national identity, and ritualistic activities and symbols as a medium for this relationship. Joint ritual activities – functioning as national symbols contained within and also transmitting cultural memory – are the constructers of national identity. Commemorations and celebrations as ritual actions affirm a sense of community, but they can also be used for ideological purposes. The use of the symbols strengthens the impact of rituals, and therefore the symbols are concentrated expressions of national identity. In this article, I have analyzed three rituals which are transmitted through Estonian cultural memory: the Uprising of St. George’s Night (Jüriöö ülestõus) and the celebrations of Victory Day and the Song Festival. I have paid particular attention to fire – as fire is a central symbol of all three rituals. I have observed how St. George’s Night and Victory Day are preserved in cultural memory and how their survival is ensured. In the case of the Song Festival I have focused on the event itself, as it has been preserved. In addition, I have paid attention to the propagandistic writings and newspaper articles accompanying these rituals. There is little historical information about the St. George’s Night Uprising, so the festivities have a literary origin. Victory Day is celebrated as a victory over the Baltic Landwehr (Baltische Landeswehr) in the Estonian War of Independence in 1919. This victory did not end the war, but its importance lies in the victory over an historical enemy – Germans. Both events are part of the “Estonians great struggle for freedom” narrative that forms the struggles against the Germans into one coherent story. The Estonian Song Festival is one of the basic national myths, characterized by the term “singing oneself into a nation”. Through the Song Festivals, the nineteenth century rise in national self-consciousness found a means to express and introduce its objectives. The new “awakening” a hundred and twenty years later symbolically took the first one as a model and tied the two together. Using fire as a symbol in all these practices allows us to compare these events. In glorifying and justifying, texts draw out the symbolic meanings attributed to the celebrations. Fire refers to continuity and unity. Unity is important in two aspects: it involves both the direct and symbolic unity of people, but also a bond reaching over time – past, present and future are linked together. But fire is also seen as a symbol of victory. Victory is directly related to the celebration of Victory Day, and “liberation through singing” can also be seen as a victory. These rituals are the result of socio-political changes and have transformed over time, but their essence has remained unchanged. All these rituals have gone through different political conditions and the “remembering” or “forgetting” has been closely linked to the governing regime. Different meanings are attributed to symbols associated with the rituals. The Upraising of St. George’s Night has been celebrated in pre-war Estonian Republic, during the Soviet era and in re-independent Estonia. However, the basis of the celebration was quite different during the Soviet era from what it was and is in the Estonian Republic. Victory Day as a moment of victory in Estonia’s struggle for freedom was not celebrated during the Soviet occupation. The Song Festival has been maintained throughout various authorities, and ideological demands has continued as a national ritual. All three practices are continually in service of Estonia’s national identity. KEYWORDS: symbol, ritual, national identity, cultural memory, The Uprising of St. George’s Night, Victory Day, Song Festival, Estonia.


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Author Biography

Marge Allandi

(b. 1967) is a Ph.D. student of Tallinn University, The Estonian Institute of Humanities. Correspondence: Tallinn University, Estonian Institute of Humanities, Uus-Sadama 5, Tallinn 10120, Estonia. E-mail: marge.allandi@gmail.com