As an American with Finnish-Estonian roots, attending the EV102 celebration with the Bostoni Eesti Selts was a new experience for me. I didn’t know what to expect, other than lots of blue, black, and white flags, rukkilille table decorations, and the singing of both the American and Estonian national anthems. The latter I’d tried to memorize beforehand. I recently discovered my Finnish great-grandmother had an Estonian mother, but I’ve never been to Estonia myself, despite attempting to learn the language for the past nine months with the Bostoni Eesti Kool.
Our 2020 event was held at the Scandinavian Living Center in West Newton, Massachusetts, in the Nordic Hall. Over 60 people, including MIT students from Estonia and guests from outside Massachusetts, were in attendance. After singing the “Star-Spangled Banner,” Bostoni Eesti Seltsi president, Mr. Paul Attemann, welcomed us in both Estonian and English, which I greatly appreciated, as I could not understand every word of the Estonian! Then followed singing of “Eesti Lipp” – a song I’d heard before but in my developing understanding of the language failed to appreciate earlier. The lyrics I could comprehend gave me a deeper realization of what the blue, black and white colors mean to Estonians.
Local representatives of the other Baltic nations showed their support for our community, symbolically renewing the solidarity they showed us while forming the Baltic Chain more than 30 years ago. Both Mr. Uldis Sīpols, the Latvian Honorary Consul in Massachusetts, accompanied by his wife, Sandra, and Mr. Gintaras Čepas, the Vice President of the Lithuanian Council, New England District, held speeches affirming their support for Estonian freedom and independence. A highlight of these speeches was Mr. Čepas’ attempt at well-wishes in Estonian, which made most of us smile.
The speakers opened the floor for performances. Students of the Bostoni Eesti Kool sang many songs, directed by Jeffers Engelhardt on the piano and accompanied by his wife Triin Vallaste. Selections included “Paradiis” (Mari Jürjens), “Üksteist peab hoidma” (Kadri Hunt), “Sata-Sata“ (Mari Kalkun). Afterwards, celebrated Estonian-American musician Epp Karike Jürima Sonin, accompanied by Alethea Khoo, performed both Estonian songs as well as German ones. One of the highlights of Epp’s musical performance was her moving rendition of “Hoia Jumal Eestit,” which, despite my knowledge of Estonia not being a religious nation, felt particularly poignant in light of a country that has struggled for independence throughout its history. The older students returned to the stage and introduced humor through a group trivia game, testing everyone’s knowledge of the country we had all joined together to celebrate. Afterwards, it was time to eat. To the astonishment of eleven year old Allena Kelly from Barrington, RI, I tried Estonian candy for the first time and discovered how much I loved Kalev, despite the fact I’ve never been a huge marzipan fan!
As with most Estonian celebrations I’ve attended in the past, dancing was also a part of this one. As an American, I found the group dancing hilarious, as well as a great opportunity to review my Estonian vocabulary. Although I could not understand every word, I felt welcomed to join into traditional dances, led by both Triin and Jeffers, such as “Mesilane aias,” and despite my initial shyness, felt drawn into the spirited dancing and found myself struggling to learn the lyrics. Some of the ’Ringmängud’ tested my balance in my dress shoes and I was relieved I didn’t fall over!
The evening concluded with the singing of “Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm” and closing remarks from Paul, with the sentiment of hope for the future for Estonia’s continued independence. I felt somewhat nostalgic that I will not live long enough to celebrate another one of Estonia’s centennials, but extremely grateful to our close-knit community that I could be a part of this one.
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