Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Estonian Birthday Table Tradition

One of my favourite Estonian traditions is the birthday table tradition. My grandparents did it with their children every year and my father sometimes did it for me too. I know from experience that there is nothing more exciting for a child than to go running into the living room on their birthday to find all their gifts beautifully displayed on the table. I loved it! And I also love looking at these old family photos of my father and uncle enjoying their birthday tables. You just never know what delights await you!

Friday, 26 August 2011

Singing Happy Birthday in Estonian

My father turns sixty this month and to celebrate I have planned a lavish party to show him how dearly he is loved. With six children he is bound to be spoilt rotten and rightly so, he has always been such a wonderful father. My uncle Nardo is usually the one who proudly starts singing in Estonian for like me, he likes to keep up traditions in our family so we remain connected with our Estonian heritage.

This is how you sing happy birthday in Estonian.

Õnne soovime sul!
Õnne soovime sul!
Palju õnne, palju õnne
Õnne soovime sul!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Estonian National Anthem - "Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm"

With today being the "Day of Restoration of Independence" I thought it fitting to post the Estonian national anthem. Several of my relatives fought in the Estonian War of Independence which took place between November 1918 and February 1920 and I would like to acknowledge their heroism here. Unfortunately independence only lasted twenty-two years in Estonia until the country was once again occupied by Soviet and German forces, but thankfully Estonian independence was restored on the 20th August 1991 a day when Estonians around the world could once again rejoice in their freedom. For many Estonians however, World War II only ended in 1994 when the last Russian soldier left Estonia.

Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm  (My Fatherland, My Happiness and Joy)

Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm
kui kaunis oled sa!
Ei leia mina iial teal
see suure, laia ilma peal
mis mul nii armas oleks ka
kui sa, mu isamaa!

Sa oled mind ju sünnitand
ja üles kasvatand;
sind tänan mina alati
ja jään sull' truuiks surmani
mul kõige armsam oled sa
mu kallis isamaa!

Su üle Jumal valvaku
mu armas isamaa!
Ta olgu sinu kaitseja
ja võtku rohkest õnnista
mis iial ette võtad sa
mu kallis isamaa!

English translation

My fatherland, my joy and happiness
How beautiful you are!
I shall not find such ever
In this huge wide world
Which would be so dear to me
As you, my fatherland!

You have given me birth
And raised me up
I shall thank you always
And remain faithful to you 'til death
To me most beloved are you
My precious fatherland!

May God watch over you
My precious fatherland!
Let Him be your defender
And provide bountiful blessings
For whatever you undertake
My precious fatherland!

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Farewell Eesti Kroon

On the 1st of January 2011 Estonia forfeited the kroon as its national currency and fully adopted the Euro which became Estonia's sole legal tender thereafter. For many people, myself included, it was a sad day to see the kroon go for it has long been associated with Estonia's cultural identity and national sovereignty. It was a symbol of Estonia's freedom and independence.

I can understand the need for a sole European currency, it does make travelling and doing business a whole lot easier when you don't have to worry about exchanging money all the time but it is sad when a country loses a feature of it's cultural identity and ability to govern itself. I've spent a lot of time holidaying in France over the years and I remember in 2000 how sad I felt when I had to use Euros to pay for things instead of French Francs. I was also displeased that the cost of everything seemed to have risen too with the introduction of the Euro. It's like that in Estonia now too; the Euro has bumped up the price of things.  

As a keepsake and a reminder of Estonia's bygone era, I have kept a complete set of Estonia's kroon banknotes because they are a very important part of the country's history.




I also have this old Estonian banknote from 1932 which is a good addition to my collection too!


Monday, 8 August 2011

Estonian Culture, Customs and Traditions

A few years ago I was on my way to dinner with my family in Tallinn's Old Town when we were approached by a group of young women celebrating a hen's night. The bride-to-be was all dressed up and carrying a basket full of pastries which she was selling to people she met in the street.  She told us it was a wedding tradition and considered good luck. I was not aware of any such tradition and was dubious as to whether it was genuine but we bought some pastries from her nonetheless and wished her well with her upcoming nuptials.   

Like all countries Estonia has its own unique cultural identity, a set of traits and characteristics as well as its language which distinguish the country and its people from its European neighbours. Some of Estonia's customs and traditions may be similar to those of other countries but there are many which are uniquely their own.

Here follows a list of notable and often surprising Estonian customs:

Estonians like privacy and space. More than 80% of the population own their own home and those houses built in the countryside are deliberately built far apart from each other so people can keep to themselves. Estonians prefer to keep a low key existence and frown upon pretense. Unlike other cultures where its people like to boast about themselves in order to feel greater self worth, Estonians do the exact opposite, they are more likely to criticise themselves than to inflate their own ego. 

Education is highly valued in Estonia and people have a deep respect for books.  Children start school at age seven and learn at least two languages. In class Estonian students rarely interrupt their teachers and never reveal their thoughts unless asked.  School graduation is a major event in an Estonians life. It is celebrated with a huge 'coming of age' party which has the same significance as celebrating a  21st birthday party in other countries.

Military service is compulsory for men aged 19 - 28 years and usually lasts 11 months.

When invited to someones home it is customary to bring a gift, usually wine, chocolates or flowers. You should never give a bouquet of white or an even number of flowers because they are associated with funerals. It is customary in Estonia to look after the graves of beloved family members and place candles on them for birthdays or any other important anniversary. 

Estonians generally don't wear shoes in their homes and prefer to wear slippers. If you are a guest in someone's home you will probably need to remove your shoes at the front door so ensure you are wearing clean and intact socks.

Up until WWII it was customary to be married in your home by the local vicar and then have a party afterwards. Today church weddings are still unpopular with people preferring to get married in a civil ceremony and hire a reception venue. With any invitation it is always customary to politely reply as soon as you receive it.

It is a tradition in Estonia to name a child after a grandparent when he or she is baptised - which accounts for the fact why there are so many Alexander's in my family!

National pride is strong in Estonia. Despite all the years of occupation and oppression the Estonian language managed to survive and is beloved to all Estonians.

Birthday traditions may vary from family to family. Traditionally when a child wakes up on the morning of their birthday they go running to the living room where they find their presents and birthday cake displayed on a table. They look upon their gifts in awe but are not allowed to touch any of them until their parents are present in the room. The gifts are traditionally not wrapped. Today I have slightly altered this tradition in my family, I still display the gifts on the table but they are always wrapped, the birthday cake is the centre piece and I always take an official birthday photo with the birthday person sitting behind the table. I always like to buy my family many gifts as a measure of my affection.

Christmas Eve night is when Estonians celebrate Christmas. It is the time when families gather, sing songs together, exchange gifts and eat, drink and be merry.  In my family we often celebrate Christmas twice because I have one parent who is Estonian and other who is Australian. So on Christmas Eve I would be singing " Oh kuusepuu" with my father's family and on Christmas Day "Oh Christmas tree"  which is the English equivalent.  

Monday, 1 August 2011

Estonian Greetings and Useful Estonian Vocabulary

One thing I've discovered from learning my Estonian vocabulary from my father is that languages definitely evolve over the generations. Some of the expressions my father taught me are no longer in use in modern Estonian but I wasn't to know unless someone pointed it out to me. My father only speaks the Estonian his parents taught him and as they left Estonia in 1940 he has not been kept up to date with the changes to the language. Not so long ago a friend teased me when I used the word "prosit" to say "cheers" instead of "tervist". He light heartedly said that's something his great grandfather would have said.  In 2003 when my family went to Estonia we visited the National Museum of Estonia in Tartu.  I remember my father chatting away in Estonian to one of the women who worked there who interrupted him, saying "I haven't heard Estonian like that in a very long time - that's how Estonian used to be spoken etc."  She thought it sounded cute. My father may speak 'old Estonian' and I may get the occasional chuckle when I say the wrong word but it's all a learning experience.  

Here is a list of useful words and phrases to get you by in Estonia.

Hello - tere
Goodbye - head aega
Yes - jah
No - ei
Please - palun
Thank you - tänan or aitah
How are you? - kuidas läheb?
I don't understand - ma ei saa aru
My name is - mina nimi on
Excuse me - vabandust
I would like - ma sooviksin
How much does it cost? -  kui palju see maksab?
May I have the bill please – ma sooviksin arvet or bill please - arve palun
Bon appetit - head isu
Cheers - tervist
You're welocme - palun
I’m sorry – mul on kahju
Good evening - tere õhtust 
Good morning - tere homikust, or simply "morning" - hommik

Happy birthday - palju õnne sünnipäevaks
Happy Easter - häid lihavõttepühi
Merry Christmas - haid jõulud
Happy New Year – Head uut aastat
Congratulations – soovin
Good luck - Palju edu
I love you - ma armastan sind

Bread - leib                      Honey - mesi
Milk - piim                       Ice-cream - jäätis
Butter - või                      Cake – tort
Cheese - juust                  Pie – pirukas
Cream – koor                    Biscuits – küpsised
Eggs - muna                     Jam – keedis
Water - vesi                     Salt – sool
Coffee - kohv                   Pepper – pipar
Beer - õlu                         Orange juice - apelsimimahl
Wine - Vein

Town centre – kesklinn     Today – tana                    Week – nädal
Airport – lennujaam          Tomorrow – homme          Month – kuu
Shop - pood                      Yesterday – eile               Year – aasta
Money – raha                    Hour – tund                      Day – päev
House - maja                      

Mother - ema                   Uncle – onu                      Man - mees
Father - isa                      Aunt - tädi                      Woman - naine       
Parents – vanemad           Cousin - tädipoeg             Boy- poiss
Son – poeg                       Neice – vennatütar           Girl - tütarlaps
Daughter – tütar               Nephew - vennapoeg        Child - laps
Sister – õde                      Brother – vend                 Baby - beebi

Other useful words
big / small  –  suur / väike
hot / cold  –  kuum / külm 
good / bad  –  hea / halb
new / old  –  uus / vana
expensive / cheap  –  kallis / odav
quick / slow  –  kiire / aeglane
easy / difficult  –  kerge / raske
clean / dirty  –  puhas / must
thick / thin  –  paks / õhuke
young / old  –  noor / vana
open / closed  –  avatud / suletud

Summer - Suvi, Autumn - Sügis, Winter - Talv, Spring - Kevad