Celebrate midsummer with the Seto in Estonia
Eat, drink and be merry with the people from one of Europe’s last traditional cultures.
The Seto are ancient people divided by a modern border. Their land, Setomaa, straddles both Estonia and Russia.
In the local language, Setomaa means ‘Land of Wars.’ They live along a border that has never been ratified and continues to be disputed to this day.
The Seto are fiercely protective of their customs and traditions.
They worship pagan deities and sing in runic verses. When they were persecuted by Stalin they hid their traditional costumes and spoke their own language in secret.
Today they are one of the last remaining traditional folk cultures in Europe.
That culture is celebrated every midsummer at the annual Seto Folk Festival.
The festival is held in Värska, a tiny village 267 kilometres south-east of Tallinn on the southern shores of Lake Peipu.
It is a celebration of all things Seto. Vendors sell local crafts. Seto delicacies like sõir cottage cheese and a salty broth called suulliim are served. And home brewed beer is quaffed by the pint.
There is a bonfire, of course – no Estonian midsummer celebration is complete without one. And the locals dust off their impressive traditional costumes to dance their energetic traditional dances.
The festival is also a great place to hear leelo, an ancient Seto polyphonic singing tradition that has been recognised an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
The nicest thing about the Seto folk festival is that it has the vibe of a particularly colourful local village fete.
Too much food is eaten. Too much beer is drunk. And festival goers and participants lounge on the ground, listening to bands, chatting with friends or simply soaking up the midsummer sun.
Could there be any better way to spend three days in the latter part of June?
Main image: Women dancing at the Seto Folk Festival (Visit Estonia)