"Issi, sülle!" In a word: "Daddy, pick me up!" "Carry me!" "I want to sit in your lap!" I heard that a lot this morning, when the kids at my daughter's day care and kindergarten were overjoyed at having their daddies over for breakfast. Not just any breakfast, but a pudrupidu (porridge party). The previous day had been Father's Day in these parts, unlike the 52 countries including the U.S., who celebrate dads and grandpas on the second Sunday in June. However Estonia adopted the custom from our neighbouring Finns, who along with other Nordic countries celebrate fathers in the fall. Eesti isad abroad thereby have two days a year to celebrate their revered status.
As a national holiday and flag day, Father's Day is marked among other things by a special concert at the Estonia Concert Hall and naming of Father of the Year. This year the award went to artist and former politician Heinz Valk, father of 3, grandfather of 9. During the quietly smouldering fall of 1988, he coined the now famous phrase "Ükskord me võidame nagunii!" One day we will win regardless!
Fathers, or more precisely a lack of fathers reveling in their traditional destined role, is a worrisome subject in Estonia. Although the precise number of children living without their fathers is unknown, according to the Rahvastikuregister (Population Registry) there are approximately 40 000 children in Estonia living solely with their mothers. How many of them have not had any kind of caring relationship with their fathers, is unknown. In positive contrast, new organisations such as Ühendus Isade Eest (Association for Estonian Fathers, www.isad.ee) are battling for equal rights and equal responsibility to change antiquated mindsets as well as the deteriorated state of many families.
"Pudrule!" and other classics
In a word: porridge is ready, come and get it! And there are so many wonderful pudrus served in Estonian kindergartens. Cold cereals are generally unknown here. They're on the supermarket shelf but generally expensive and people's faith in heartier fare (porridge or open-faced sandwiches) at the breakfast table is unwavering. Müsli is the closest most people get to cereal, which is generally called krõbinad ("crunchies").
Estonian kindergarteners and preschoolers are served breakfast, lunch and a snack and it's pretty traditional fare! I dare say the menu is heartier and healthier then many young moms make at home, largely thanks to the older, grandmotherly generation of cooks preparing it. Porridges and soups are often milk based (e.g. piima-hirsisupp, milk millet soup) and many desserts are made from sweet cream cheese (kohupiim) and jams. It's a joy to see kids eating fish soup, borscht, maksakaste (liver gravy) and mannapuder kisselliga (cream of wheat in thickened juice) in an urban setting in 2009!
October and November are generally a time for remembering. Hingedeaeg (the time of souls), when family members and forefathers who have passed are commemorated and awaited back to visit stretches throughout the long fall in Estonia. Tables were set and saunas heated in anticipation of guests from the other world. Today candles are lit on windowsills and graves, especially on Nov. 2, hingedepäev (All Souls Day), although as Ahto Kaasik, elder of Maavalla Koda believing in maausk (nature-worship) says: "Souls do not follow the calender, but move about when the weather is calm".
Nov. 9 is not only the eve of trick-or-treating with a twist in Estonia (called mardi jooksmine, "running Mart"), but also the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, as was largely commemorated on the 20th anniversary of that event this year. Nov. 11 is Rememberance Day in Canada and Veteran's Day in the U.S., (also Armistice Day) marking the end of World War I on that date in 1918. And one of a total of 4 days recalling Estonian freedom won is in November. Can you name them all?
Everyone knows 1) vabariigi aastapäev, Independence Day on Feb. 24 celebrating independence won from the Russian Empire in 1918 and most people know 2) võidupüha, Victory Day on June 23 celebrating victory over German forces at the 1919 Battle of Võnnu during the Estonian War of Independence. (This last holiday is ceremonially tied to the following jaanipäev, St. John's Day / Midsummer Day celebrations on June 24. According to law, state flags are not to be lowered during the night between these two days.) The third public holiday is a relatively new one, the Day of Restoration of Independence on August 20, 1991 also known as 3) taasiseseisvumispäev, ("Re-Independence Day"). And you deserve a steaming hot bowl of kaerahelbepuder (oatmeal, made with milk of course) if you knew that Nov. 16 is a national holiday and flag day marking 4) taassünnipäev, "re-birthday" or Day of Declaration of Sovereignty, issued in 1989.