When adventurer and explorer Juan Ponce de León discovered Florida in 1513, he could not have possibly known that half a millenium later, Florida, and more specifically, Lisa’s and Erkki’s lovely home, is the site of a most ancient celebration of a people with a most ancient culture.
This happens to be the 9,353rd celebration of eve of Jaanipäev, give or take a few hundred or a few thousand years. Jaanipäev, also known as Leedopäev or Suveharjapäev, is the one day in each year when dawn, personified by the handsome youth Koit, gets so close to dusk, the beautiful maiden Hämarik, that they can slake their burning desire for eachother and seal their love with a kiss.
Just like Juan Ponce de León, neither could the ancient Estonians have possibly known that the wonderful tradition of Jaanipäev will eventually spread throughout the world. There will be thousand of bonfires lit on this day in Estonia, and we in St. Petersburg will be joined by people with Estonian heritages in Australia, Sweden, Germany, under the mighty oaks in the park of the Estonian House of Chicago, by large crowds of Estonians in Canada and probably many other locations we don’t even know about.
It is not possible to know the exact starting point of such an ancient tradition, but we know exactly the origin of the other important day Estonians celebrate today. It is June 23, 1919. The proclamation of Estonians of their independence the previous year followed an immediate attack of Estonia by the huge Russian Communist Army. The Red Army had overwhelming advantage in arms and manpower. The fledging Estonian army had overwhelming advantage in fighting spirit and raw courage, fueled by the yearning for freedom and independence kept alive through centuries of oppression. After many difficult battles, at the heavy cost of many fallen heroes, the victory belonged to Estonian freedom fighters.
However, after they had cleared Estonian soil of communist invaders, the young republic suddenly faced another dangerous threat. The former German landlords had organized a large force of well-trained, well-armed soldiers, the German Landeswehr, with the goal of hanging on to their power and privileges in Latvia and Estonia.
On 20-th of June, 1919, knowing that the main force of Estonians was facing the red Army on the Eastern front, they launched an all-out attack on Estonia from the south. The Landeswehr had an overwhelming advatage in military training and heavy weapons. The Estonians had an overwhelming advantage in fighting spirit and raw courage, fueled by pent-up resentment for their former oppressors which had gathered force for centuries. They were so eager to fight that some men actually deserted from the Eastern front and some wounded soldiers even escaped from hospitals to fight their hated former landlords.
General von der Goltz, the commander of the Landeswehr, arrogantly boasted that he would demolish the Estonian peasant army in a few hours. Heavy battles raged for three days, but after the decisive battle had neen fought at the town of Võnnu on the 23-rd of June, the Landeswehr was in full retreat and victory belonged to the freedom fighters of the young Estonian Republic.
I wish all of you head Võidupüha, and join all of you in wishing that the Republic of Estonia may commemorate and celebrate this great day in its history as long as eternity endures.
Jüri Toomepuu at the celebration of Võidupüha and Jaanipäev by the Kesk-Florida Eesti Selts. (1)