Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Year's Eve 2015

I always feel a bit wistful seeing the end of another year until I start my planning ritual for making the new year bigger and better than the one before. A year may consist of many highs and lows but it is those special moments that make it memorable.

Wishing everyone good health and happiness for the coming year. May 2016 bring you much prosperity and joy!

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Estonian Facts in Pictures

During the year I have enjoyed reading "Fact of the Week" postings from the Estonian Embassy in the UK on Twitter. Here are some of my favourites:

For more useful information and to follow the Estonian Embassy UK on Twitter, click here:

Toronto church’s stained glass window tells the frightening story of another refugee influx — from Estonia

Here's an interesting read from the National Post.

The stained glass refugee window at St. Andrew’s Church on Jarvis Street faces south toward Lake Ontario. It is not displayed prominently. Walk by it, and you are liable to miss it.

But stop and look up, and what you will see is a Gothic church window unlike any other. There are no Jesus, Joseph or Mary or crosses or saints or other symbols of faith, but a grim, almost colourless scene, rendered in greys and blacks, depicting a boat full of people with haunted expressions — refugees from more than 70 years ago.

“That church window matters today,” says Eneri Taul. “We are facing a refugee crisis with the Syrians. But it is a crisis we faced in 1944, as Estonians. It was the last time to escape from that country.”

Leaky fishing trawlers, loaded with refugees, and tossed about on stormy Baltic seas while being preyed on by dive bombing Russian fighter planes and lurking submarines, are central to the exodus stories from the Baltic States.

Estonia was occupied three times during the Second World War — initially by the Soviets, then by the Germans and then again by Soviet Russia, a state that no longer exists but remains resoundingly unpopular among Estonians. (The three Baltic states, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, hold ceremonies on June 14 each year, marking the date in 1941 when the Soviets deported tens of thousands of their citizens to Siberia where most perished).

After temporarily losing their hold on Estonia to Germany the Russian army rolled back in, in 1944, pushing tens of thousands of refugees ahead of them.

Their only escape was by boat.

“I remember everything about it,” says Ivar Nippak, who was eight. “I remember bullets clanging off the boat’s deck. But what frightened me most wasn’t the bombs, but the white flares that the Soviet fighter planes dropped, casting everything in light.”

We are drinking coffee and munching on kringel —  imagine a succulent, cinnamon-raisin Christmas bread, and that is kringel — while talking about the past and an old church window’s connection to the present at Estonian House in the city’s east end.

There is a gift shop in the lobby full of Estonian books and assorted doodads. The Estonian credit union is upstairs. So, too, is the Estonian consulate that when times were different back in Estonia, and the tiny Baltic nation was trapped behind the Iron Curtain, subject to the brutal whims of the Soviet leaders in Moscow, was the consulate-in-exile.

Up another flight of stairs is a shooting range, marksmanship being a valued trait among a diaspora whose homeland has been occupied and liberated more times throughout history than a person has fingers and toes.

Taul, a retired architect, was two when her mother bundled her onto the boats. Tonu Orav, seated across from Taul, was even younger. Riina Klaas, to Tonu’s right, was born in Canada, but often heard her father-in-law speak of the boats. He left Estonia with two other vessels. His was the only one to survive the crossing to Sweden, a journey that claimed 7,000 lives.

Estonia lost a quarter of its population — about 250,000 people — during the war. When it was over, there was no going home. But there was Canada.

“I root for Canada in accepting the Syrian refugees,” Taul says. “Because, as Estonians, we have been there.

They arrived in Canada with nothing, built lives from nothing, and had Canadian-raised children who grew up and had children of their own — children who grew further and further away from the stories of the past and the church on Jarvis Street.

The Estonian and Latvian expatriate communities bought St. Andrew’s in 1951. They installed the refugee window in the 1980s. The church was sold this past fall, because of declining attendance.

But the window is still there, if you go looking for it. It faces south toward Lake Ontario. Toward the water, where so many refugee stories begin.

“It is a scene from our lives,” Nippak says. “We lived it.”

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Merry Christmas! Häid jõule!

The 24th of December is finally here! Merry Christmas! Häid jõule!

Wishing all my family, friends and readers across the globe a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May your Christmas be filled with much merriment and joy! Stay safe.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Romantic Ideas for an Estonian Christmas

Christmas is a magical time of year but if you are spending it apart from the person you love, it's easy to feel a bit sombre during the festive season. Recently I was contacted by a reader in the UK who unfortunately has to work during the Christmas period and won't be able to accompany his girlfriend home to Estonia this year. Obviously he is feeling a bit sad by this and asked me what he could do in advance to make their Christmas special before she goes. I gave him this advice. 

1. Estonians always celebrate Christmas and other special days on the eve, the night before, so a little celebration in the evening with candles would be a nice idea. Be sure to make your kitchen / living room visually delightful and appealing.

2. In terms of gifts, Estonian women tend to like thoughtful and practical things. Something she can either use or wear would be very much appreciated. If you feel like being romantic it is best to buy her something she can wear so she will always think of you when she has it on. It could be something practical like a nice hat and scarf - she would definitely use that in Estonia! Or a piece of jewellery. With the scarf, you could always be a bit bold and spray your cologne on it so it smells of you. She'll miss you even more!

3. Estonians are very proud of their tri-colour flag so if you happen to find snowflake wrapping paper that resembles blue, black and white - it's sure to impress!

And if you really want to melt the heart of your loved one while you are apart, slip a little note into her luggage before she leaves. Loving words go a long way!

Monday, 21 December 2015

How to Celebrate Christmas the Estonian Way!

In Estonia Christmas is known by the pre-Christian word 'jõulud' and many of the country's traditions can be traced back to its pagan past. Traditionally Estonians laid Christmas straw in their homes during the festive season and made Christmas crowns but these things are rarely done today. One tradition that has survived the centuries is the lighting of candles and visiting the graves of loved ones. No-one is forgotten at Christmas time.

This is how Estonians typically celebrate Christmas today both at home and abroad.

Päkapikud (Christmas elves)

While Advent calendars tend to be popular in most Christian countries, they are not really used in Estonia. Traditionally, if children wish to receive sweets during the Christmas season, they leave a slipper on the window sill and during the night Christmas elves visit and fill it with sweets. 

Jõuluvana (Santa Claus)

In Estonia, Santa is known as 'Jõuluvana' (Old Christmas) and his Estonian headquarters is located in Jõgeva. He has a shop there open throughout the year to which children can either write letters or visit. All letters bearing a return address will be answered. Simply post them to Santa Claus Post Office in Jõgeva.


No Estonian home is complete without piparkoogid (gingerbread biscuits) at Christmas time. It's loved by all! Marzipan is also another popular Christmas treat!


Drinking spiced mulled wine 'glögi' is very popular with Estonians. You can either buy a pre-made bottle or make your own. It's very easy!

Estonians are very fond of celebrating important days on the 'eve' of the event - Jaanipäev, Mardipäev and Kadripäev are all celebrated the night before and Christmas is no exception. Every Estonian celebrates Christmas during the evening of 24th December. It's a time of much merriment and joy. 

Traditional Estonian Christmas dinner consists of pork, sauerkraut, baked potatoes and blood sausage (verevorst). There is also a lot of dill, sour cream, bread and potato salads on the table too. 

A nice tradition that has been taking place in Estonia for over 350 years is the declaration of Christmas peace. This was first initiated by Queen Christina of Sweden during the 17th Century and today the President of Estonia makes the speech on Christmas Eve.

25th December or 'jõulupüha' is usually a relaxed day reserved for visiting relatives. 

Friday, 18 December 2015

'The Fencer' advances to top 9 in Oscars race | News | ERR

The Finnish-Estonian co-production "The Fencer" has advanced in the race for the Oscar for best foreign-language film, moving on to the next phase of voting for the 88th Academy Awards.

The list of 80 films originally considered eligible for the Oscar, including Estonia's choice "1944," have been narrowed down to nine:

Belgium, “The Brand New Testament,” directed by Jaco Van Dormael
Colombia, “Embrace of the Serpent,” Ciro Guerra
Denmark, “A War,” Tobias Lindholm
Finland, “The Fencer,” Klaus Härö
France, “Mustang,” Deniz Gamze Ergüven
Germany, “Labyrinth of Lies,” Giulio Ricciarelli
Hungary, “Son of Saul,” László Nemes
Ireland, “Viva,” Paddy Breathnach
Jordan, “Theeb,” Naji Abu Nowar

The list of five official nominees will be announced on January 14. The Oscars gala will be held on February 28.

"The Fencer" has also recently been nominated for a Golden Globe.

The film tells the story of the legendary Estonian fencing coach Endel Nelis (1925-1993), played by Estonian actor Märt Avandi. It is directed by Klaus Härö and based on the original screenplay by Anna Heinämaa.

Last year, Estonia's entry "Tangerines" earned an Oscar nomination but lost to Poland's "Ida" in the end. "The Fencer" represents Finland.

Source: 'The Fencer' advances to top 9 in Oscars race | News | ERR

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Estonian Christmas Music on Spotify

Maarja is one of Estonia's top performers, she represented Estonia twice at the Eurovision Song contest in 1996 & 1997. Her Christmas album Jõuluingel was released in 2009 and is still a favourite to listen to during the festive season.

Maarja's 'Jõuluingel'

Tracks include:
2.Püha Öö
3.Rõõmsad Jõulud

You can listen to Jõuluingel here on Spotify.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Tartu Becomes UNESCO City of Literature | News | ERR

Tartu, the second largest city in Estonia and its self-proclaimed intellectual capital, is the first city is the Baltic-Nordic region to become UNESCO City of Literature.

UNESCO's City of Literature program was launched in 2004 and forms part of its Creative Cities Network. This year, Tartu and eight other cities were welcomed to the program, almost doubling the number of Cities of Literature in the world. The first to earn the honour in 2004 was Edinburgh in Scotland, followed by Melbourne and Iowa City in 2008.

Altogether, 47 cities from 33 countries joined the Creative Cities Network this year within seven creative fields (crafts and folk art, design, film, gastronomy, literature, media arts and music).

“The most characteristic feature of cultural life in Tartu is creativity joining all free arts, openness to new ideas and a will to attract the citizens and the visitors to join these creative experiments,” the application committee said. “Tartu is historically a city of verbal arts and literary culture but it is also essential that in Tartu literary activity is closely connected with other arts and spheres of life: many events and projects bring together literature, music, visual arts and performing arts and literature often serves as the connecting link between different spheres of culture.”

Tartu is the location of several state institutions like the Ministry of Education and Research, Estonian National Museum, and Estonian Literary Museum. The city is also the centre of many nationwide literary events and projects, including the Estonian literary festival Prima Vista, and has over one thousand institutions related to creative industries registered in the its Business Register.

Tartu submitted its preliminary application for the title in 2013 and the final application in July 2015. The application process was led by the Estonian Literary Society.

“Tartu is a city where culture, creative freedom and interdisciplinary innovation have been vital aspects of identity, of local and global aspirations to uniqueness as living environment. Becoming a member of the CCN is an acknowledgement of our historic and current creative achievements, but foremost an affirmation of our willingness to share best practices with partners worldwide,” the committee said.

Source: Tartu becomes UNESCO City of Literature | News | ERR

Mission Siberia

For Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, the horrors of WWII began with the Soviet invasion in 1940, during which time tens of thousands of men, women, and children, were deported to prisons and forced labour camps in Siberia and other remote regions of the Soviet Union. Since 2006, Lithuanian young people have travelled to these remote regions to restore the grave sites of those who perished there. In 2015, the popular program was expanded to include Latvian and Estonian youth.

To learn more about this great initiative you can follow Mission Siberia on Twitter and Facebook

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Christmas Gift Ideas from Estonia

With Christmas just around the corner now is the time to finalise your purchases in order to avoid any disappointments when products sell out. If you are still hunting around for the perfect gift or need a bit of inspiration, here are a few ideas. Everything can be purchased online making the shopping process so much easier.

The Lipuvabrik in Tallinn manufactures not only Estonian flags but a number 
of delightful homewares.

Dukiboo produces a lovely range of clothing for both women and children.

Liss has a beautiful collection of coats and jackets made for women and girls.

Etnoland has an excellent range of Estonian made goods inspired by the 
colours of the national dress fabrics.

Estonians love to have these products in their homes. uses traditional fabrics to create new designs.

Here's some of the best selling items in bookshops across across Estonia right now. 

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

University of Tartu Natural History Museum Opens New Permanent Exposition

The oldest museum in Estonia, UT Natural History Museum, which was founded in 1802, opens their new exposition on 16 January 2016. After four years of renovation works, the new permanent exposition “Earth. Life. Story” and two study classes were completed.

The new permanent exposition takes visitors through the development of the Earth and its biota to modern day. Visitors can meet placoderms from the Devonian Period, observe the night-time flight-station of butterflies and see the first jackal in Estonia. There are also dioramas that depict communities habiting the Tartu meridian. In the live-corner, children can meet the already familiar Japanese Rat Snake and the Mexican Redknee Tarantula but also a new habitat—the Green Iguana.

To read the full article, please click here: 

Sunday, 29 November 2015

The President of Twitter: Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Estonians are fond of their president. He's forward thinking, tech savvy and acts in the best interests of his country and people. He is also a very honest president who is not shy to speak his mind on social media. “With a little bit of creativity, you actually can go far beyond your borders,” says Toomas Hendrik Ilves.

Here's an interesting article about President Ilves written by Max Seddon. To read, please click here: The President of Twitter

Friday, 27 November 2015

TMW Organiser and Social Activist Helen Sildna Named Citizen of the Year 2015 | News | ERR

Culture Minister Indrek Saar presented Helen Sildna with the Citizen of the Year 2015 award in a ceremony at the Estonian History Museum. Sildna was chosen from 21 candidates nominated for the award.

The Citizen of the Year award was announced on Thursday, which marked the Citizen's Day in Estonia. The day is meant for all citizens and people living in Estonia, regardless of their ethnic origin. The aim is to raise awareness of civic status, elevate civic pride, and recognise the decisions made by citizens in shaping the country’s development.

Citizen's Day has been celebrated on November 26 since 1988. It's the day the Land Council passed a decree on “The citizenship of the Estonian democratic republic” in 1918, by which, for the first time, the notion of the Estonian citizen was established in the legal sense.

The Citizen of the Year title was first awarded in 2003. The previous recipients of the award include former president Lennart Meri, athletes Jüri Jaanson, Andrus Veerpalu and Konstantin Vassiljev, and composer Erkki-Sven Tüür.

Every year the Ministry of Culture chooses one field under its juristiction to pay special attention to. This year's theme was "Music Connects" and the award went to music promoter and events producer Helen Sildna. In 2009 she set up Tallinn Music Week, a music industry conference and one of the biggest showcase festivals in the Baltic-Nordic region. She is a board member of the Estonian Music Development Centre, Estonian Culture Council, and a member of the Estonian President¹s Advisory Board. Sildna is also one of the activists behind "Tolerant Estonia" initiative, which promotes a more accepting, open-minded approach to ethnic and sexual minorities.

TMW organizer and social activist Helen Sildna named Citizen of the Year 2015 | News | ERR

Thursday, 26 November 2015

President Ilves to Release a Compilation of Favourite Songs From His Youth

On the 4th of December President Toomas Hendrik Ilves will release a compilation called "Teenage Wasteland - Favourites 1963-1978". A donation will be made from every album purchased to the Minu Unistuste Päev (My Dream Day) charity project, which makes dreams come true for seriously and chronically ill children in treatment at Estonian hospitals.

According to President Ilves, the songs in the compilation have all shaped his later tastes in music, from new wave to punk, grunge down to today's Wolf Alice, Palma Violets and Vaiko Eplik. "These were the songs I listened to at night with a small 12 transistor radio when I was growing up, which provided much needed redemption for life in what The Who called a Teenage Wasteland. Funny to say now, turning 62, but back then my life was saved by rock 'n' roll," he admitted.

The compilation includes 16 various songs from 1963-1978 that influenced the President when he was growing up in the United States of America. The following favourite songs of the Head of State have made it to the record: Four Tops - "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)", The Temptations - "My Girl", The Shangri-Las - "Leader of the Pack", The Beach Boys - "Help Me, Rhonda", Cream - "Tales of Brave Ulysses", The Band - "The Weight", The Velvet Underground - "Rock & Roll", Roxy Music - "Virginia Plain", The Who - "Baba O'Riley", Lesley Gore - "It's My Party", New York Dolls - "Trash", The Troggs - "Wild Thing", David Bowie - "Panic in Detroit", Ramones - "I Wanna Be Sedated", Peter Sarstedt - "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)?" and MC5 - "High School".

"This isn't quite a collection of my favourite songs. That would include all kinds of songs from 1963-78 most Estonians know – the Beatles, the Stones hits, for example," said Ilves. "They also do not include bands that wouldn't give permission for a collection of this type, which means crucial songs such as the Kinks "You Really Got Me" and "All Day and All of the Night" are missing. As are the We Five's "You Were On My Mind" which a mere year later paled before Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love". Missing too is the musical and spiritual father of Pearl Jam and Nirvana, Neil Young, in his "Cinnamon Girl" phase. As is the early garage punk band Music Machine's "Talk Talk"."

The collection is being released by Universal Music Baltics; it will be available from December 4 on CD and on the Spotify streaming service. You can buy the record from all good record stores throughout Estonia, incl. Lasering, Terminal, Apollo and Rahva Raamat.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Another Impressive Christmas Tree Stands in Rakvere

The small Estonian town of Rakvere stood out last year by erecting one of the most distinctive Christmas trees in the world at the town’s square. This year, the town is attempting to repeat the same feat. 

To read the full story, please click here: Rakvere surprises with a Christmas tree, again…

2016 – The Year of Paul Keres | News | ERR

The World Chess Federation has named 2016 “the year of Paul Keres,” to mark 100 years since the birth of the legendary Estonian chess champion.

Keres was born on January 7, 1916, in Narva and came to be known as the eternal second in the world, losing a number of world championship title matches. He was second in 1953 (places 2-4), 1956, 1959 and 1963. In 1948 he came 3-4th at the world championships and in 1950 he was fourth.

Keres is a beloved figure in Estonia, and was also depicted on the five kroon banknote. Some believe Keres consciously lost to a number of Western chess players, in silent protest against the Soviet Union, while he was forced by authorities to fold to other Soviet Union chess players, who were more in line. He died in 1975 in Helsinki.

To commemorate Keres, an international youth tournament will be held in Narva on December 8 and the European Rapid and Blitz Chess Championships will be in Pärnu at the end of 2016. A number of smaller events will also take place.

Source; 2016 – the year of Paul Keres | News | ERR