This coming weekend the whole of Estonia will go absolutely crazy. We'll have the Dance Festival on Saturday and our big Song Festival on Sunday.
It is almost impossible to express the significance of singing and it is definitely impossible to overemphasise its importance for Estonians. The Song Festival tradition started about 150 years ago and it has always been the main carrier of our national identity. Especially during the occupation years when coming together after every 5 years reminded the nation that the hope of freedom and independence was never quite dead. These were the times when any public reference to national independence was forbidden and so it was that singing - even under the red Soviet flag - became the symbol of non-violent resistance. In September 1988 there was a mass gathering with about 300 000 Estonians singing in Tallinn's Song Festival stadium. And it's almost impossible to believe but that's how we gained our independence. By singing. Not one gun was shot. Not one man died. The invincible Soviet empire collapsed and Estonians sang their way to freedom.
Sociologists nowadays describe the Song Festival tradition in religious terms. And it's accurate. Estonians who make the second most atheistic nation in Europe still have one thing and one place they regard as holy. The Song Festival is their worship service and the Song Festival stadium their sanctuary. And the experience - I can bear witness - is very religious. It is indescribable to have a choir of 20 000 singers and the audience of about 80 000 people singing together, breathing together and crying together. By the end of the festival you can't tell where the choir ends and the audience starts because everyone is standing and singing their heart out all the same. Including me.
My older brother and my sister-in-law made it to the Song Festival this year. Their choir made it, that is (the competition is tough). So I'll go and wave the flag and sit and sing and watch them sing on Sunday. Beautiful stuff.
Here's a trailer of a documentary called Singing Revolution some Americans made a while aback. It's a terrific overview of our history and the song Festival tradition and of 1988 happenings. I strongly recommend it. :) I get goosebumps every time I watch it.