Naming names

I’ve never been too crazy about my first name, Anita. Anita always felt ill-fitting and uncomfortable. I never met other girls named Anita until college. Someone in my dorm yelled “Anita! Phone call!” Seconds later, not one but two other Anitas almost collided with me at the dormitory’s pay phone. (This was during the Dark Ages – 1969 – before smart phones or even stupid portable phones.) We looked at one another in surprise. None of us had ever encountered another Anita of our own age before, let alone two Anitas.

Deep inside, I felt almost offended at meeting them. I had become so accustomed to going it alone through the crowds of Barbaras, Patricias, Donnas and Debbies in high school, that I felt Anita was my own personal cross to bear. Nobody else could have it! Unless I could trade it for Lynne or Linda. Linda was doubly acceptable to me because it was an Estonian name as well as an American name popular for female babies in the early 1950s. But my Estonian immigrant parents may have considered Linda a bit old-country. My mother explained once that they considered Anita a nice international name for me. Furthermore, it was a diminutive of Anna, my mother’s name. Anna was also the name of a great-aunt and one of my great-grandmothers. And my father’s middle name was Anton. Eventually I continued the tradition by giving my older daughter the middle name Ann. But I’ve never felt truly reconciled to the name Anita.

It could have been worse. I could have gotten a real old Estonian name like that of one of my great-grandmothers, who was evidently called Gröta. I discovered this recently while searching through online copies of old Estonian Lutheran Evangelical Church parish records and finally finding the recorded marriage of my great-grandfather Peter Laur, son of Jürri, to a Lisa Püsnik, daughter of Gröta, way back in 1878. I stared at that name for a long time. The records are written in old-fashioned German, and sometimes the handwriting is impossible to decipher. In this case the script was fairly readable, and it said Gröta. I had never come across such a name in all my searches.

Great-Grandmother Gröta

I have seen names like Krõõt, which looks and sounds gosh-awful, like the sound of someone vomiting heavily after a night of imbibing potent Estonian vodka. But Krõõt is merely an old-fashioned Estonianized spelling of Greta, sometimes short for Margareta or Margaret, but often enough just a sinple one-syllable first name of the kind 19th century country Estonians loved. I’ve also found Krööt, a slightly different spelling, in church records. And I’ve seen the name Kreet bestowed among contemporary Estonians.

I don’t know how reliable or up-to-date the website namerank.com is, but to my very great surprise, it states that Kreeta is the 7th most popular girls’ name in Estonia, with Kreet at 11th place and Kreete at 47th. For those of you who don’t speak Estonian, Kreet is pronounced something like crate.

However, the Estonian Interior Ministry states that the top girls’ names of 2014 are as follows:

Sofia (102), Eliise (74), Maria (73), Mia (71), Lisandra (60), Mirtel (59), Sandra (58), Emma (55), Laura (55), Darja (50), Arina (49), Milana (48), Alisa (47), Anastasia (47), Lenna (47), Liisa (47), Anna (45), Viktoria (4), Elisabeth (44), Polina (44), Marta (42), Aleksandra (39), Marleen (38), Hanna (37), Nora (37). Kreet, or Greta don’t even make th3 list.

Boys: Rasmus (91), Artjom (89), Robin (83), Martin (80), Oliver (74), Romet (71), Sebastian (70), Robert (68), Artur (64), and Maksim (63), Markus (60), Marten (60), Karl (58), Kristofer (58), Oskar (57), Daniel (56), Hugo (56), Henri (55), Mark (54), Nikita (53), Kirill (52), Sander (52), Kevin (51), Aleksandr (50), Daniil (50).

In June, 2014, the top 15 female names included Grete at 6th place. The others are 1. Sofia, 2. Liisa, 3. Darja, 4. Lisandra, 5. Mia, 6. Grete, 7. Maria, 8. Marie, 9. Aleksandra, 10. Anastassia, 11. Eliise, 12. Emma, 13. Lenna, 14. Marleen, and 15. Melissa.

Sorry, namesrank.com. Your rankings are not very close to reality.

Names and their popularity appear to be a passion of kodueestlased, the term among Estonian-Americans for those born and raised in Estonia. The Estonian Interior Ministry, undoubtedly due to popular demand, publishes annual and even monthly lists of the most popular baby names in the nation. It’s nice to know that my personal passion for names is in my genes.

At any rate, Krõõt and its variants are probably the same as Gröta, although the use of the first letter G in Estonian nomenclature isn’t that common. When I did an internet search for Gröta and similarly spelled names, I found it was used at one time in Sweden and Norway. Did some long-ago immigrant pass a parent’s name along to an Estonian-born daughter, thereby setting off a trend?

Lots of Grötas

For trend it was, at least in the area of Pangodi, a small community in Tartu county. It was called Spankau by the German barons who lorded it over the Estonian peasantry for many centuries, and Spankau was where my great-grandmother Lisa Püsnik was born. By the way, a good resource for looking up the Estonian version of an old German place-name is this: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_deutscher_Bezeichnungen_estnischer_Orte

When I started browsing through the parish records for the congregations (Nõo, Otepää and Suure-Kambja) serving residents of Pangodi in the mid-1800s, I was startled to find at least a half-dozen women bearing the name Gröth.

Unfortunately the interior ministry probably didn’t notice that trend, most likely because it didn’t exist at the time. Estonia was ruled by Russia, the Russians having ordered the German barons to free Estonians from serfdom in the early part of the century.

Be nice

I suspect that was just about the last nice thing they did for Estonians, who had to battle furiously for their all-too-brief first period of independence at the end of World War 1. Then, like a very bad case of the flu that simply will not go away, the Russians came back at the end of World War 2 and took Estonia over again, at least until 1991. And now, like a bloodthirsty vampire, it once again appears to be threatening the freedom of its tiny, ethnically distinct neighbors Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. What will it take for the Russians to grow up and get over their obsession with us? To learn to live and let live? To respect national boundaries?

 

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Kadripäev and Hekate

Before I get into this week’s name days, let’s look at traditions associated with one of the old agrarian festivals of the Estonian year, kadripäev, known in some countries as St. Catherine’s Day. Kadripäev and its male counterpart mardipäev (Nov. 10) are two of Estonia’s most popular holidays after jaanipäev (June 23-24) and jõulud (Dec. 24-25, Christmas).

In Catholic countries, November 25 is the feast day of St. Catherine  of Alexandria. Estonians, who were Catholic until the Protestant Reformation, use variants of the name Catherine for this day on their name-day calendars.  The day’s names are Katariina, Katrin, Katre, Katri, Kadrin, Kadri, Kadi, Kati, Kaarin, Karn, Triin, Triina and Triinu. Finnish names for this day are Katri, Kaisa, Kaija, Katja, Kaarina, Katariina, Katriina, Kati, Kaisu and Riina.

Interestingly, there is no agreement on the origin of the name Catherine or its alternative spelling Katherine, but it could have derived from the name Hekate, an ancient goddess in the northeastern Mediterranean region. Hekate is also spelled Hecate.

The goddess Hekate

Behind the Name, a web site  that explores the etymology and history of first names, describes Catherine/Katherine as having originated “from the Greek name Αικατερινη (Aikaterine). The etymology is debated: it could derive from the earlier Greek name ‘Εκατερινη (Hekaterine), which came from ‘εκατερος (hekateros) “each of the two”; it could derive from the name of the goddess Hecate; it could be related to Greek αικια (aikia) “torture”; or it could be from a Coptic name meaning “my consecration of your name”. In the early Christian era it became associated with Greek καθαρος (katharos) “pure”, and the Latin spelling was changed from Katerina to Katharina to reflect this.” http://www.behindthename.com/name/katherine

The website Wiki.name states that “the etymology of Catherine is debated, but the earliest derivative of the name is the Greek ‘Hekaterine,’ stemming from ‘hekateros’, meaning ‘each of the two.’ It is possible Catherine shares its roots with the name Hecate, Greek goddess of the wilderness, childbirth, and crossroads”. http://wiki.name.com/en/Catherine

And like Katherine, Hekate’s name gave rise to variations used as personal names.  Robert Von Rudloff’s article, “Hekate in Early Greek Religion” notes “the popularity of personal names such as Hekataia and Hekataios based on the stem Hekat- in certain regions such as Ionia and Karia”. http://zer0dmx.tripod.com/gods/hekate.html

I would add that the Russian version of Katherine, Yekaterina, and the Bulgarian version, Ekaterina, strongly resemble the name Hekate.

Old kadripäev traditions in Estonia

Kadripäev customs in Estonia were similar to those of mardipäev, Martin’s day, Nov. 10, although the mardisandi (Martin-saints) beggars used to be predominantly male and dressed in dark clothing. The kadrisandid (Catherine-saints) beggars used to be mainly female and robed in white, although contemporary Estonian youngsters who go door to door can be either gender and wear any kind of color, costume or mask. As always, Estonians celebrate on the eve of a holiday, so the kadri beggars have their fun on the evening of November 24.

Kustas Põldmaa describes Estonian kadripäev traditions in his lovely 1976 book, published in Tallinn, Nurmelt ja Niidult (From the Fields and Meadows). He wrote that the kadrisandid raced from door to door, singing, dancing, sometimes playing instruments and wishing the farm folk good fortune for their herds. Sometimes boys accompanied them. One of the beggars, designated the kadriema, (Catherine-mother) carried a doll made of cloth, to which tooth-money was offered. The kadriisa, (Catherine-father) carried a goose-shaped figure made of straw to frighten children. To bribe the “goose” from harming the children, householders offered the kadrisandid gifts such as linens, woolens, apples, peas, honey, woven belts, gloves, stockings or kerchiefs.

Catherine’s Day was altogether a women’s holiday and linked to the protection of sheep. Herding was considered women’s work, and working was prohibited on this day. In some places sheep were honored with a ban on spinning, sewing, knitting, and shearing. Hunting wild animals and killing sheep were also prohibited. Sheep, of course, were fed especially well on this day.

No cabbage soup for you!

For some odd reason it was taboo for people to eat cabbage soup on kadripäev. Supposedly this prevented geese from eating the farm’s cabbages. http://www.slideshare.net/ylletamm/kadripev

Another custom was ritually eating porridge in the byre or shed where sheep were housed, to promote the health and fertility of the herd, writes Lauri Vahtre in Maarahva Tähtraamat, (1991) (The Earth-folks’ Almanac) which lists and explains the special days of the Estonian calendar.

The kadrisandid, as they left a farmhouse, called thank-you blessings such as the following:

Õnne talule ja talledele
Õnne karjale ja kassidele
Õnnistage teie õued täis loomasida
Laudad täis lambasida

From http://www.slideshare.net/ylletamm/kadripev

Which means:

Good luck to the farm and your lambs
Good luck to the herd and the cats
Bless your yard full of animals,
Byres full of sheep.

Along similar lines, the ancient Greek poet Hesiod, who lived somewhere between 750-650 BCE, wrote of Hekate: “She is good in the byre with Hermes to increase the stock. The droves of kine and wide herds of goats and flocks of fleecy sheep, if she will, she increases from a few, or makes many to be less.” From http://www.hellenicaworld.com/Greece/Mythology/en/Hecate.html

Hekate, patroness of herders

It’s interesting that Hekate, known as a patroness of herders among her many attributes, brought fertility to sheep and goats, while the kardrisandid in Estonia, celebrating a St. Catherine whose name may have originated as Hekate, wish fertility to farmers’ sheep.

Hekate is “the world’s key-bearer, never doomed to fail; in stags rejoicing, huntress, nightly seen, and drawn by bulls, unconquerable queen; Leader, Nymphe, nurse, on mountains wandering, hear the suppliants who with holy rites thy power revere, and to the herdsman with a favouring mind draw near.” – Orphic Hymn 1 to Hecate (Translated by Thomas Taylor in 1792).
http://www.theoi.com/Khthonios/HekateGoddess.html

An Orthodox troparion or short hymn to St. Catherine begins with the line

“Thy lamb Catherine, O Jesus,
Calls out to thee in a loud voice”

http://orthodoxwiki.org/Catherine_of_Alexandria

Another possible link between Hekate and Katherine is their feast days. Two of Hekate’s primary feast days fall on November 16 and November 30, with St. Catherine’s feast-day falling between them on the 25th.

Could an old rural celebration like kadripäev have descended from the sheep blessing festival of an ancient Greek goddess who was the patroness of herders?  I wonder.

More name days

November 20 is the Estonian  name day for Helmar, Helmer, Helomo, Helmu, Helmur, Helmut, Helmurer and Helmust. Our close relatives the Finns mark the day’s name as Jalmari and Jari, essentially derived from the original German name, Helmar, which means famous helmet. Variants of the name Helmar are also used in Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

November 21 is the name day of Pilvi and Pilve, both female names. They were  probably placed on this day because it is the feast day of St. Philemon in the Catholic Calendar of Saints. Pilvi and Pilve mean cloud, but the names certainly resemble Philemon. Estonians don’t use diphthongs such as ph and would likely pronounce the saint’s name as Pilemon. The Finnish name for the day is Hilma, which sounds somewhat like their preceding day’s name Jalmar.

November 22  is the Estonian name day for Cecilia and variations of it: Säsil, Silja, Silje and Sille, all feminine. This is the feast day of St. Cecilia, and the Finnish names for the day are Silja and Selja, also derived from Cecilia. Behind the Name writes that this is the Latin feminine form of a Roman family name, Caecilius, “which was derived from Latin caecus “blind.”  http://www.behindthename.com/name/cecilia

November 23 is the Estonian name day for the male names Clement, Leemet and Leemo, probably due to this being the feast day of St. Clement I. Behind the Name says this was the name of 14 popes and derives from the Latin name Clemens which meant “merciful, gentle.” http://www.behindthename.com/name/clement The Finns use names that sound somewhat like Clement: Lempi and Lemmikki, on the following day, Nov. 24.  Lempi means love in Finnish, and Lemmikki means little favorite one. The Estonian word lemmik also means favorite. The Finnish name for Nov. 23 is Ismo.

November 24‘s Estonian names are Ustav and Ustus, which are masculine and mean believer and faith. I don’t know why those names were selected for this day, unless there is a very slight resemblance to the martyr St. Chrysogonus.  There is a martyr, St. Justus, on Nov. 26 who seems a more likely candidate.

November 26 is the Estonian name day for Dagmar, Tamaara, Maara and Maare, all feminine names.  Again, I don’t know why those names were associated with this day, unless because of a St. Amator or St. Marcellus listed for Nov. 26 in the Catholic Calendar of Saints. But that may be stretching it a bit.

What’s in an Estonian name?

Estonians tend to keep their first names short and simple.

Here are just a few examples, off the top of my head: Epp, Evi, Anu, Reet, Eha, Aime, Ilo, Elo, Airi, Mai, Aet, Tiiu and Juta  are female names.

Short male names include Ants, Arvo,  Laur,  Koit, Kaur, Siim, Aado, Arno, Laas, Peep. Tiit, Mats, Uko, Jaan, Jaak, Agu, Leho, Ain and Timo.

I’m sure most of these names look odd to Americans.  And yet some of them are derived from names that are familiar to most of us.

It’s possible that the use of such mini-names harkens back to the centuries when most Estonians were serfs, toiling under the rule of German barons. Presumably it was much easier to yell (in German, naturally) “Hey Ants! Catch that pig before it eats the cabbages!”  than to holler “Hey, Kandotõivo!” — or Metsikö, or Pitkänen or Lembisaadu, other Estonian names from the distant pagan past.  Those names are a mouthful, not to mention tricky to pronounce, and the pig would likely have finished off a couple of cabbages before the baron’s serf manager finished his sentence.

Nimepäevad means name days

I was curious about what the short names meant, and whether they were shortened versions of longer names.  One day several years ago I was looking around on the internet and came across a website, now no longer in existence, that listed nimepäevad – Estonian names that corresponded to days of the year. This was a treasure trove of information, since it often included  several variations of a given name.  I printed out a copy to study it.

As far as I know many Americans choose baby names from family traditions or baby name books or name websites, not from name-day calendars. Roman Catholics might sometimes use their Calendar of Saints in naming. I honestly don’t know how much Estonians use the name-day calendar for choosing names.

In the Estonian name-day calendar, January 6 is the name day for Aabel, Aabi, Aabo, Aapo and Aap, all variants, and all probably related to the name Abel, as we know it in English.  Puzzled as to how the name Abel was connected to January 6, I did some more digging and learned that January 2 is a Catholic feast-day for the biblical Abel, slain by his brother Cain.  And a Finnish name-day collection showed that January 2 was their name-day for the name Aapeli, undoubtedly another form of  Abel. (The Estonian and Finnish languages share a common origin and many vocabulary words.) Abel comes from the Hebrew name Havel or Hevel, and means breath.

I started cross-checking the Estonian names with name-day lists from Finland, Sweden and Germany, as well as the Catholic calendar of saints, because I suspected there was a relationship between the saint days and the name-days. Having once had a father-in-law who was born and raised in Italy, I learned that their custom is not to celebrate one’s actual birthday, but the feast day of one’s namesake saint.

A week of name-days

Here is a weeks’ worth of Estonian name-days from their name day calendar for your edification.

Today, November 13, happens to be the Estonian  name-day for Kristjan, Krister, Kristo. Risto, Rista and Riste. I’m unsure as to whether a couple of those names are feminine; most are masculine.  In Finland, November 13 is the name-day for Kristian; in Sweden Kristian and Krister. The Catholic saint for that day is St. John Chrysostom; one wonders if the Estonian, Finnish and Swedish names from the same day were picked to be similar to the saint’s. At any rate, the Greek name Christophoros, from which the above names derived, means Christ-bearer.

November 14 is the Estonian name-day for Alviine, Alvi and Alve, all female names. Raivo Seppo, in his book Elavad Nimed (Living Names), adds the shortened form Viine. In Germany,  Alberich is the name for the day. The saint of the day is St. Alberic, so Alviine may have been selected for that day because of a resemblance to the saint’s name.

November 15 is for the names Vaike, Vaige, Vaigi, Vaiki, all feminine and from the Estonian word vaike, quiet. I couldn’t find any connection to a saint or name-days in other countries.

November 16 is the Estonian name-day for Arnold, Arno, Arne and Aarne, all male names.  The Finns have Aarne, Aarno and Aarni  – they love to double up on vowels. There is a Saint Arnulph whose feast day is October 17, a month earlier, but I don’t know if there’s any connection.  Seppo says Arnold and its variants are from the German name Arnwald and mean powerful eagle.

November 17 is for the Estonian male names Heinar, Einar, Einari, Eino, Egon, Egil. The corresponding Finnish names for the day are Eino and Einari.  St. Arianus and St. Hugh are saints for this day, and you can probably see how close Arianus sounds to Einar.   Seppo said Einar comes from the Scandinavian name Aginhard or Eginhard, though most web sites say Einar comes from Norwegian Einarr (one warrior).

November 18 gives us the female Estonian names Ilo and Ilu, which mean beauty, but also joy. Seppo says the names come from Finnish, although the Finns have entirely different names assigned to Nov. 18. There is a St. Alphaeus linked to this day. Perhaps Ilo and Ilu were chosen for this day because they slightly resemble Alphaeus?

November 19 is the Estonian name-day for Eliisabet, Eliise, Elis, Els, Elsa, Else, Liis, Liisa, Liisu. Ilse and Betti, all akin to the name Elizabeth, which comes from the Hebrew Elisheba or Elisheva, meaning oath of God.  The Finns and Swedes also have variations of Elizabeth for this day, and it is the feast day of St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

I will try to go through the entire Estonian name-day calendar in future posts, as time permits.

Confession: I’m a name freak

I love names, and not just Estonian ones. I like to collect them, study them, look for their meanings and origins. For example, I used to think my first name, Anita, was solely Spanish in origin, meaning little Ann, the way Juanita is a feminine form of  little Juan.  Ann derives from the Hebrew name Channah, and means grace. That’s what the name books say, but I’ve never met an Anita who is Hispanic. My parents picked it because it seemed an “international” name. It’s certainly not Estonian, though it might have been used there occasionally.

In recent years I’ve met a couple of Indian women named Anita, and was surprised to discover that it is  a well-known female name in India, said to be Persian in origin and meaning myrtle, the plant. The Namepedia says Anita means myrtle in Zand, an Old Persian language.  http://namepedia.org/en/firstname/Anita_%28208719%29/

The Dekhone Persian Dictionary online says Anita means kindly and glad. Wikipedia says Anita is the short form of Anahita, an Iranian water goddess in the Avestan cosmology, and means kindness and being personable.  Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anita_%28given_name%29.  The goddess Anahita is called “the immaculate one”, and is linked to the planet Venus and the goddess Ishtar, whose sacred plant happens to be the myrtle.

Nahid, a present-day Persian girls’ name according to ourbabynames.com, means star or planet Venus, and likely stems from Anahita. And now I wonder whether the Hebrew name Channah (source of the names Ann, Anita) has any kind of connection to the Persian Anahita.  The website http://www.meaning-of-names.com/israeli-names/channah.asp says Channah means “goddess of life” in Israeli, and Anahita is the “goddess of the waters”, so maybe there is one.

Mardipäev and soul time in Estonia

When I was a kid,  I asked my mother whether she dressed up in costumes and went trick-or-treating as a girl in Estonia. She told me – to my horror – that there was no such thing as Halloween when she was growing up.

Instead Estonian kids rubbed soot on their faces or put on a bedsheet and went knocking on a few neighbors’ doors on mardipäev (Martin’s day), though it was not widely celebrated like American Halloween.

Today, November 10, is mardipäev in Estonia.

Originally  celebrated on November 11, it honors St. Martin of Tours and is celebrated in many parts of Europe. In Estonia it was a relic from the time when Estonians were reluctant Catholics, forcibly Christianized in the 13th Century. Some time after the Protestant Reformation, however, the Estonians cleverly got back at the Roman Church by switching the date to November 10, Martin Luther’s birthday, and honoring Luther instead.

Mother didn’t get into the saints and Martin Luther business, and I didn’t care about it anyway. What I wanted to know was the burning question: did they get candy?

The horror: no candy

Of course they didn’t get candy. The poor deprived Estonian kids of the 1920s and 1930s might have gotten an apple or a few nuts from a homeowner, but certainly nothing like the Tootsie Rolls, candy corn, sticky homemade popcorn balls, candy apples, Snickers bars, lollipops, Hershey bars and other goodies that my brother and I hauled home in pillowcases after a hard evening ringing doorbells.

On trick-or-treat nights we usually brought along decorated school milk cartons to collect coins for UNICEF, and turned those in to our grade school teachers the next day. Our costumes were improvised, simple and homemade. Boys often wore  cowboy hats and carried their toy six-shooters. Girls frequently dressed as nurses or princesses. Some moms (almost nobody’s mother worked outside the home in the early 1960s) sewed or helped make their kids’ outfits.

I felt great pity for my mother and her school friends, deprived of the opportunity to devour vast quantities of candy once a year. They also missed out on the joys of Goosey Night, October 30, which is when kids in our part of North Jersey put on dark clothing and ran around ringing people’s doorbells to annoy them, or writing on car windows with soap. I presume this was intended as a warning for homeowners to stock up on candy or risk additional tricks the following night.

What on earth did they do for fun back in my mother’s childhood? I couldn’t begin to imagine.

Souls’ time – the time of the ancestors

According to various students of Estonian folklore, Martin’s day was part of a longer interval known as hingedeaeg, soul’s time, when the spirits of our ancestors and departed loved ones are near us. Some say this period began with mihklipäev, St. Michael’s Day, September 29,and concluded with kadripäev, St. Catherine’s day, November 25, or even on Christmas Eve.  Others believe the time of souls started at hingedepäev, All Souls’ Day, November 2, and ended on mardipäev, November 10.  (Let me note here that Estonians don’t capitalize the first letters of many words that we would capitalize in English. They also don’t use the word saint in mentioning a saint or saint’s day. Instead, it’s mihkel’s day, kadri’s day, martin’s day and so on.)

Soul time  is that bleak part of year when the growing season’s done,  the leaves have fallen, the nights have grown long and dark and winter is on the doorstep. Contemporary wiccans and pagans in America call this the time when the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead grows thin, and the beloved dead walk among us.

In many cultures around the world, this is a special time to remember the departed. In Mexico, November 2 is known as Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, when families create altars and deck them with colorful flowers, candles and skull shapes made from sugar.  They picnic in cemeteries, bringing the favorite foods of those they honor and love.

In Estonia, the departed are remembered throughout souls’ time rather than concentrated in a single day, according to historian Lauri Vahtre’s “Maarahva Tähtraamat”, published in 1991.  This little pamphlet describes the important days of the calendar year as observed by the maarahvas — the people of the land. Once maarahvas was what Estonians called themselves, but now it seems to include an element of paganism. Tähtraamat literally means importance-book and is a sort of calendar/almanac. The first such calendar book written in the Estonian language was called “Eesti-Ma Rahwa Kalender”, published in Tallinn in 1720. The title means Estonia-Land Folk  Calendar. It was an almanac noting feast days, the length of day and night, moon phases,  eclipses, and best days for planting, harvesting and undertaking other farm work.  Here’s a link (in Estonian) to more information about tähtraamats from the Saaremaa Museum. http://www.saartehaal.ee/2013/02/25/tahtraamat-labi-kahe-sajandi/

Ancestor worship

Vahtre  explains that the traditions of mardipäev and souls’ time developed from ancient pagan traditions of ancestor worship. All Souls’ Day, she writes, originated in 998 C.E. at the Benedictine monastery in Cluny, France and was initially only celebrated by the Benedictines. But because the annual autumnal remembrance of ancestors was widely practiced in much of Europe, the Catholic church turned that tradition into a Christian holiday.

All Saints’ Day, the church holiday preceding All Souls’ Day, is virtually unknown in Estonia. But the Tallinn city archives  show that All Souls’ was observed as far back as the 14th and 15th centuries, when it was regarded as an observance strictly for city-dwellers. The country folk, who marked the longer period called souls’ time, held specific rituals either on souls’ day or Thursdays during souls’ time. Thursday was regarded as the holy day of the week by pagan Estonians, but whether this tradition stemmed from the Taara religious cult, analogous to Scandinavian Thor worship, I do not know. Thursday is, naturally, Thor’s Day.

Fire up the saun, the ancestors are coming

The most important way to honor the ancestors was to fire up the saun (the Estonian word for sauna) and set out special foods for them, either in the saun or the house, sometimes beneath a sacred tree. The head man and woman of the household named their forebears one at a time and invited them to the feast. In return, the ancestors were asked to protect the fields and herds. At the end of souls’ time, the ancestors were thanked and wished well on their journey back.

The foods most often served to the ancestors were barley porridge, boiled meat and broth, beans and peas,  writes Kristi Salve  in an article for the Estonian website Folklore.  Link: http://www.folklore.ee/rl/pubte/ee/sator/sator2/Moningaid.html

Beans and peas were also traditionally served at wakes and funerals.

Interestingly, the ancient Romans and Etruscans believed that beans contained the souls of the dead. The Romans used beans and peas to invoke the manes, benevolent spirits of the dead, during Parentalia, a festival honoring ancestors held February 13-21. One wonders whether there is some connection between this tradition and the Estonian custom of offering legumes to the ancestors at souls’ time.

Traditionally, joking, laughing, shouting, noise and noisy work like tree-cutting were banned during souls’ time, as was spinning, according to an article edited by Mariann Joonas in last week’s Telegram online newspaper.  Link: http://www.telegram.ee/vaimsus/hingedepaevast-ja-hingedeajast

In the Middle Ages, children went from house to house, singing and begging for soul-cakes. A prayer was said for the benefit of the ancestors in exchange for each small cake. This soul-cake custom still exists in the British isles and other places, Joonas writes. In the 19th and 20th centuries, children in the Mulgi region of Estonia dressed in white  and went from door to door, though not specifically begging. Nevertheless, they were given cakes, nuts, beans and peas in memory of departed ancestors.

Hing, the Estonian word for soul, also means breath. The ancestors of the Estonian and Finnish people believed that souls existed not just in humans, but in animals and in all the rest of creation.  They believed that the soul, or a portion of it, could leave the body during sleep, sickness or unconsciousness, visibly or invisibly, sometimes as a soul-creature such as a bee or butterfly. At the time of death, the hing might enter a new person, animal or bird, go somewhere else, or remain close to its former home, according to Joonas’s article.

And so I conclude by wishing blessings to you and your ancestors at this souls’ time.

What’s a lau, anyway?

Here are the days of the week, in Estonian, the way I learned them as a small child. Note that there is no capitalization. Esmaspäev (first day), teisipäev (second day), kolmapäev (third day),  neljapäev (fourth day), reede, laupäev, and pühapäev (holy day).

Like residents of other Baltic countries, Estonians start their weeks on Mondays, so using the term first day for Monday makes sense.  So does numbering the next three days, and calling Sunday holy day.

But what does reede (pronounced RAY-deh) mean? And what’s a lau, as in laupäev? Nobody explained stuff like this back in Estonian Saturday school.

Reede’s meaning

The meaning of reede wasn’t that difficult to track down once I started looking into it. The wonderful “Eesti Keele Etümoloogiline Teatmik”  (Estonian Language Etymological Dictionary) by Alo Raun, purchased on my last trip to Estonia in 2010, indicates that the word reede has German and Swedish origins, and was derived from the word fredag, which is the Danish and Norwegian word for Friday. My three years of tortured high school German tells me that fredag sounds very much like Freitag, the modern German word for Friday.

That, too, makes sense because the Germans and their language, though utterly unrelated to the Estonian native tongue, heavily influenced modern Estonian. Indeed, German was the lingua franca of Estonia for 700 years. *See note below.

For example, the 19th century Lutheran parish records I’ve been examining  online in my search for ancestors are mainly written in German.

But back to reede and its origins. In Latin-based languages, the word for Friday is based on the Latin dies Veneris or “day of Venus”. In Italian it’s venerdi, vendredi in French, and it originally honored the Roman love goddess Venus.

The word Friday too honors a goddess, the Germanic goddess of married love  known as Freya,  Freja or Frigg.  Wikipedia states that the English word Friday  comes from the Old English Frīġedæġ, meaning the “day of Frigg”, the result of an old convention associating the Old English goddess Frigg with the Roman goddess Venus. So Estonian reede is actually borrowed from the Germanic word for Freya’s Day in honor of this goddess.

English days of the week

Incidentally, the sources for naming our other weekdays in English are the moon (Monday), the Norse god Tiw (Tuesday), the Norse god Woden (Wednesday), and the Norse god Thor (Thursday). Saturday derives from the Roman god Saturn.

Wikipedia gives us this explanation for Tuesday:

“The English name is derived from Old English Tiwesdæg and Middle English Tewesday, meaning “Tīw’s Day”, the day of Tiw or Týr, the god of single combat, victory and heroic glory in Norse mythology. Tiw was equated with Mars” the Roman god of war whose name is the source of the French word for Tuesday,  Mardi  (think Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuesday

Estonian teisipäev, Tuesday, means second day, as I wrote earlier, but one wonders whether there is a possible connection between teisi and Tiw’s day because of the similar letters. However my etymological dictionary says the Estonian word teine, which means second, originates from the  läänemeresoome (Baltic Sea Finnic) root language  and then from the soome (Finnish) word toinen (second), and thus is not of Germanic origin.  Note that Estonian and Finnish are not members of the Indo-European language family, to which English, German and most other European languages belong.

And now to lau

So where does lau come from? Not only is it used for laupäev, Saturday, but also for the evening preceding Christmas. Christmas Eve is called jõululaupäev. That’s another thing that really stumped me as a kid: why did Estonians call this night Christmas Saturday, when it didn’t always fall on a Saturday?

I knew that laud means table or a wooden board.  Lause means a phrase. Laul is song.  But none of these words is a root for lau.

Turning to my handy reference tool, the etymological dictionary, I discover that  laupäev is an Estonian and Votyak (another Finnic language) word but derives from a Scandinavian language, Norwegian. It’s based on the Norwegian word lau(gar)dag.  Incidentally the Estonian word päev, which means day, comes from Baltic Sea Finnic and is based on an earlier Saami word, päiwe. My dictionary says it originated from the Saami people of northern Sweden, who are sometimes called Laplanders.

Beiwe, which I imagine is pronounced much like päiwe,  is the Saami goddess of the sun, spring, fertility and sanity. So I guess you could say that the Estonian word for day comes from another goddess-name.  When the sun once again appears in polar regions after winter’s long darkness, the Saami smear butter on their doorposts to encourage Beiwe’s return.  Beiwe’s daughter, Beiwe-neida, whose name means sun or day maiden, often traveled with her mother across the sky riding in an enclosure made of reindeer antlers. The Saami word neida is the source of neiu, the Estonian word for maiden.  To the ancient Finns, Päivätär was the goddess of spinning and weaving, and was likely the equivalent of Beiwe-neida. It seems like we Estonians owe a number of words to the reindeer-herding Saami.

I keep drifting off the topic of lau. I looked up its Norwegian source-word on Wiktionary, and this is what it says:

Laugardagr = From laug (“pool”) +‎ dagr (“day”), literally “bathing day”.

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/laugardagr

In other words the Estonian name for Saturday literally means Bath Day.  Lau = bath. And our name for Christmas Eve literally means Yule Bath Day.

It’s nice to know the ancestors bathed at least once a week, often twice on the week before Christmas.

To the saun

However, Estonians usually  didn’t just hop in a tub with their rubber duckies and lather up. They generally lit a wood fire in the saun (sauna is a Finnish word)  to heat the saun stones, tossed water on the stones to generate steam, and remained in the steam to perspire, thereby removing dirt, germs and other impurities.  Often they livened things up by whipping one another lightly with switches of birch twigs to bring the blood (and its impurities) closer to the skin surface. Estonians still go to saun on Saturday evenings if they have the opportunity, and they still employ those birch twigs. Many still follow up a nice steamy saun session with a plunge into a cold pond or even snow, although you couldn’t pay me enough  to try that. It’s supposed to be great for health, but I’d prefer not to catch pneumonia.

I made up a chart showing the origins of the days of the week  in English, Latin-based Italian, and Estonian.  Note that in all three languages, Friday is a day honoring a goddess of love.

 

English Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
origin Sun Moon Tiw Woden Thor Freya Saturn
Italian Domenica Lunedi Martedi Mercoledi Giovedi Venerdi Sabato
origin Lord’s Day Moon Mars Mercury Jupiter Venus Saturn
Estonian pühapäev esmaspäev teisipäev kolmapäev neljapäev reede laupäev
origin holy day first day second day third day fourth day Freya bath day

 

*Note: Before 1200 the Estonians and their neighbors the Latvians were free pagan people,  but early in the 13th Century they were attacked by German crusaders seeking to forcibly Christianize them by order of the Pope. The Estonians and Latvians successfully resisted for about 20 years, until the Danes moved in from the north and captured the principal city, Tallinn, while the Germans took the rest of the country.

On April 23, 1343 the Estonians rose up, renounced Christianity  and fought for their freedom, burning manors and killing every German they could find. This was called the St. George’s Night (Jüriöö) uprising and lasted nearly three years, until the rebellion was crushed by the invasion of the Teutonic Order. The indigenous Estonians were forced into serfdom under the German ruling class, which remained in power during subsequent Swedish and Russian conquests.

Under Russian Czar Alexander I, serfdom was abolished in Estonia in 1816, and in Livonia (which consisted of southern Estonian and northern Latvia) in 1819. The German nobles still controlled all the land, but new laws were established beginning in the 1840s allowing Estonian peasants  to move freely, own property, and govern their own local affairs. Between 1822 and 1835 Estonians acquired surnames for the first time.

 

 

 

 

It’s Estonian Women’s Day – have some red beer!

Today, February 2, is popularly known as Groundhog’s Day in the U.S., but unfortunately, the fun is generally over after the drowsy rodent has seen/not seen its shadow and predicted more winter/early spring.

However in Estonia, Küünlapäev, literally candleday (Candlemas) is an all-day festival for women, who head out to pubs and quaff red-dyed beer or vodka, while the men stay behind to mind the children and do the housework.

What a great idea! I always knew Estonians were geniuses, especially Estonian women. Moreover, this holiday is not just some brainchild of modern-day Estos – it’s been a tradition for perhaps centuries.

February 2 is also known by the name naistepüha or women’s holiday. Women put on their best clothes and necklaces, and went visiting or dancing at local cafes and pubs.  The special beverage of the day is called naistepuna, which literally means “women’s red”. This is beer or another alcoholic beverage colored red.

St. John’s Wort flowers

The word Naistepuna also happens to be the Estonian folk name of a plant called St. John’s Wort, hypericum perforatum in Latin. Traditionally women gathered the plant’s bright yellow flowers during the summer solstice and dried them to make red dye for the Candlemas beer.

Many of you may have heard that St. John’s Wort is considered an herbal treatment for depression, especially by people in northern Europe.  It makes me wonder if the dried flowers were put in the beer on purpose to relieve the gloom of a long northern winter and cheer the women up.  Estonian women still drink red beer on this day, but I believe it’s usually done with food coloring.

The Open-Air Museum outside Tallinn, Estonia, featured a program today in which visitors got to make candles from sheep fat, taste traditional foods and sip St. John’s Wort tea, which supposedly made people’s cheeks rosy. Pink cheeks were considered sign of good health.

In Toronto, Canada, home to a large population of Estonian immigrants and their descendants, members of Estonian women’s academic organizations will probably celebrate their 53rd annual Candlemas event this weekend.

Traditional beliefs of February 2

Traditionally, this day signifies that winter is half over, and that half the food stored for winter should still be in the larder and the barn.  Like Groundhog’s Day, Candlemas was a day for forecasting weather. A rainy day was supposed to predict a rainy summer, while a sunny one meant a dry summer.

All of the women’s winter spinning had to be finished before this day, since it was forbidden for women to spin on Candlemas, lest the sheep get sickly weak and attract wolves.  Sewing was allowed in southern Estonia, where each stitch represented a poke in a wolf’s eye. Almost all other housework was prohibited, maids got the day off, and wages were paid. People ate flitch (unsliced bacon) and barley porridge.

It was believed in Estonia that candles burned brightly on this day.  Candlemas was a Christian holiday when the church candles were blessed for the coming year. In pre-Christian times, candles and fires were used in rituals and magic to honor goddesses and gods of fertility.

The Exalted One

In Ireland, February 1st is the feast day of St. Brigid, who began as a pagan goddess, Brid or Brighid. St. Brigid remains the most celebrated and revered figure in Ireland next to St. Patrick. Sometimes this day is also called Midwinter Day, because it falls midway between the winter solstice and spring equinox.

Fire and purification are an important aspect of the ancient pagan festival of Brid (pronounced breed). In the Celtic world, she is also called Brighid or Brigit in Ireland, Brigantia in Northern England, Bride in Scotland, and Brigandu in Brittany. It is believed the name comes from a root Sanskrit word Brahti meaning “The Powerful One” or “The Exalted One”.

Brid was the Gaelic goddess of poetry, healing and smithcraft. Both goddess and saint are associated with holy wells, sacred flames, and healing. The lighting of candles and fires represents the return of warmth and the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. On her day, the home was cleaned, old ashes removed from the fireplace, and new fire kindled.

Brid originally was a sun and fire goddess, and this is reflected in her legends: she was born at sunrise on threshold of the house as her mother was on her way out to milk the cow, and immediately a tower of flame emerged from her forehead that stretched from earth to heaven, fulfilling a druid’s prophecy that she would be neither born inside or out, or during the day or night. She was patroness of healing wells and springs, because the fire of the sun was believed to give the water healing properties at certain times of year.

In Pagan belief, the divine aspect of the feminine is associated with water, abundance and fertility. There are wells dedicated to Brigid throughout the United Kingdom, with Brigid’s well in Kildare being the most revered. People cast offerings such as coins, rings or bits of metal into wells. In a 19th century survey it was found that Ireland was home to nearly three thousand holy wells. Of these, at least fifteen are dedicated to St. Brigid.

Wives’ Feast Day

In Northern England and Scotland this day is known as Wives’ Feast Day, which sounds a lot like the Estonian women’s festival. Other members of the household cook dinner for the lady of the house, and she is given small gifts and honored as keeper of the hearth and home. It looks like they’ve got the right idea, but do they drink red beer?

In ancient Rome, Midwinter Day belonged to Juno Februata, virgin mother of the god Mars. The word Februare in Latin means “to purify”. Fires were lit for purification, and candles were blessed and burned in her honor. Women carried candles in street processions in memory of Demeter’s search for her daughter Persephone, as told in the Greek myth. Determined to stop goddess worship, Pope Sergius I in the year 453 ordered February 2 to be celebrated as the feast of the purification of the Virgin Mary, forty days after she had given birth.

No matter which name it goes by, February 1 and 2 are celebrations of fertility, the divine feminine, and the awakening of the earth that eventually leads to spring. And, let’s not forget, it’s a day when women can and should celebrate themselves.

Circle games

Kids lined up in front of the great hall at the Estonian Children’s Summer Camp, Middle Island, NY, circa 1961

I’m the 8th from the left in the second row.
(To view larger image, click on the photo.)

I don’t know quite how they did it.

How did those struggling immigrants manage to pool their money to buy pieces of property in Long Island and elsewhere, and build, with their own hands, the structures that would house community events and celebrations for decades?

How did they manage to pack 50 or more Estonian-American kids ranging in age from 6 to 14 into a pair of two-room cabins and keep them amused and occupied for six weeks every July and August? How did they keep us speaking Estonian in spite of all the American influences bombarding us?

One answer is that there was a fierce sense of determination in our immigrant parents’ generation to keep the Estonian language and traditions alive  — as they were being wiped out in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic — and a burning hope that some day we would all move back to a free Estonia.

Many of our parents never lived to see the day in 1991 when the hated  Russian domination over their homeland was lifted and the immigrants were suddenly free to go back.  They had worked hard to keep their children as Estonian as possible, stretching hard-earned dollars to send us to Saturday schools to improve our grammar and learn our history.

Going home

Some  of our parents did move back to the Old Country. So have members of my generation, the sons and daughters of  the immigrants.  Estonia’s current president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, grew up in northern New Jersey not far from my home town, though I doubt that we ever met. Ilves was one of those who moved back. I’m one who didn’t.

As children we were taught the traditional Estonian songs and circle games of our parents’ generation. Circle  games are singing games played with participants standing in a circle, one or two in the middle choosing partners from the circle, or otherwise acting out parts of the song.  Americans have a few circle games too, such as “Ring Around the Rosy” and “London Bridge is Falling Down.”

The first  Estonian circle game many of us learned was probably “Kes aias”.  Children stand in a circle pretending to be rosebushes in a garden. One child in the center is a bee.  There are the words we sang:

 Kes aias, kes aias?

Mesilane aias.

Mis nimi, mis nimi?

(person’s name) tema nimi.

Käi läbi, käi läbi

Käi läbi roosipõõsaste

Ja otsi kohta kus sa saad

Ja lükka teine sisse.

Translation:

Who’s in the garden?

Who’s in the garden?

A honeybee’s in the garden

What’s it’s name?

What’s it’s name?

(person’s name) is his or her* name

Go through

Go through

Go in and out the rosebushes

And find a place where you can

And push another to the center.
*Notice that the Estonian language does not use words
for “his” or “her”. Happily, it has an non-gender pronoun
“ta;” “tema” being its possessive and third-person form.
I love this peculiarity of Estonian and have long wished
that we could use ta to replace his and her in English. It
would have made my journalism career simpler.

Let’s say someone named Pat was slightly hurt in a car accident, but his or her car was totally destroyed. We don’t know whether Pat is male or female, so we need to waste time  making phone calls to see if we can find out whether Pat is a man or woman. We may not be able to get this information, because the police officer who filed the accident report is off-duty, and the editor is growling that it’s close to deadline.  It’s hard to fudge this in English. We can write “Pat Smith was slightly injured in a one-car accident on Dale Road yesterday evening, according to Smithville police. Smith’s car was totally destroyed. ”  But that’s too wordy.

Ta did it

If you work for a paper with a stylebook that insists you use Mr., Mrs., Miss or Ms. in front of a person’s last name, and you can’t find out Pat’s gender, you have a challenge. You work around this by writing   “Pat Smith was slightly injured in a one-car accident, but the car was totally destroyed” and the editor growls  that you failed to mention whether Pat is a he or a she.

How much simpler life would be if you could simply write “Pat Smith was slightly  injured in a one-car accident, but ta’s car was totaled. ”   Why does anyone need to know Pat’s gender, anyway?

Or, in another example, “Bill and Nancy need to take off ta’s shoes.”  There is no need for “his or her”, though it’s usually handled with the word “their” in Americanese, and “tema” in Estonian.

I’m going to start using ta in place of his or her on this blog, in the forlorn hope it will somehow catch on.

As usual, I’m wandering far off the original topic.

 Going in circles

Circle games were some of my favorite things about being raised Estonian. Another circle game we learned was “Üksinda, kõnnin ma” (All alone, I am walking). This one begins with a lone person walking around in the center of the circle, searching for a friend. When ta finds a friend among those around

the circle, ta pulls that person in  and they joyfully dance a polka measure together, that goes “Jah, jah, ja, sind tunnen ma, lähme veel kord tantsima. “ (Yes, yes, yes, I recognize you. Let’s go dancing once again.)

Many of the folk dances we learned at camp or Estonian school were also performed in circles.  One of the easiest was “Kalamees,” Fisherman.  I taught this to my daughter’s  Brownie troop for Thinking Day some years ago.

But why so many circles? I imagine they symbolize continuity, a way of life that inherently changes very little over the years. Spring comes, and crops are planted. Summer begins, and so does hay-making. Crops grow, and in the early autumn they are harvested. Winter looms, and people retreat indoors to read, to weave,  to repair fishing nets and farm implements.

Different nations may invade and conquer, but the Estonian people, who call themselves Maarahvas (Earth’s people) quietly maintain their traditions, their songs and their dances through the cycles of the seasons.  They leave, and then they come back.

Regarding the photo:

I can recognize less than half the kids in the camp photo.

Fifth from the left, second row is Merike Kammar, 7th from the left is Kati Saksniit, I’m next to Kati. Then a girl on my right named Tiina, Anne Hirs, Katrin Poola, Ines Lukmann, Sylvia Lukmann, Evi Fry and Karin Lukmann complete the second row.  In the first row, second from the left is Jaan Kuuse, 6th from the left might be Tommy Lukmann, last one on the right is my brother Pete.  Recognize someone? Let me know!