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One of my favorite groups in the song festival parade were these Canadians who turned a classic rock song into a national anthem.

On Monday, over 40,000 song festival participants marched from the Vilnius Cathedral to Vingis Park.  My neighbor, her father and I found an excellent spot on Gedimino Prospect to watch the parade pass by.  Our plan was to then go to Vingis Park ourselves and watch the concert.  However, the rain started at the same time that the parade started.  Although it was a light rain, we were unprepared so we were wet and cold when the parade finally ended two hours later.  We decided that we’d rather go home, get dry and warm, and watch the closing song festival event on television.  I was a bit disappointed not to be in the crowd and to see the mass concert live, but we saw and heard more on t.v. than we would have at the park — since we probably would have ended up far away from the stage.  My neighbor and I enjoyed the concert while sitting on my comfy sofa drinking mugs of hot tea.

Each group carried a sign with the name of their town and I think that every single town in Lithuania was represented in the parade.  Some of the larger cities, such as Kaunas and Klaipeda, had more than one group participating.  In addition to many groups in national costumes, there were marching bands and girls with pom-poms.  Most of the choirs were singing as they walked along.  By far, the song we heard most often was “Graži Lietuva.”  They waved to the spectators and we waved back and cheered for each town.  There were Lithuanian groups from countries as nearby as Belarus and as far away as Australia, Brazil and Argentina.

The dance festival event lasted for two and a half hours.  The first part featured dancers in costumes that I think represented the medieval period of Lithuanian history.  The second part featured dancers wearing traditional 19th century costumes.  Below are two brief videos to give you an idea of the dances performed in each part of the event.

I can now say that regardless of nationality and whether there is a sporting event or cultural festival on the field, it is human nature to do the wave when in a stadium.  I was surprised and entertained that the crowd of spectators enthusiastically did the wave while folk dancers twirled below us on the field!

I was recently informed that the links to my videos on youtube weren’t working.  I have changed the settings on youtube and the videos should now work.  Please let me know if there are still problems and I’ll try to find an alternative method for uploading videos to my blog.  I’ve created a new category called “video” on the left of the web page.  All the posts with videos are tagged so my readers who want to go back and actually watch the videos can easily find them.  Thanks for your patience!

Today was School Children’s Song Day at the song festival.  You gotta love hundred of kids in colored t-shirts singing in the park on a sunny day.  Here they are singing the Lithuanian National Anthem.  I had to take photos and video facing into the sun and from a distance so it’s a miracle any of them turned out.

Waiting their turn to perform

Waiting their turn to perform

"I know my kid is up there somewhere!"

"I know my kid is up there somewhere!"

I couldn't figure out why people were carrying umbrellas into the park when there wasn't a rain cloud in sight.

I couldn't figure out why people were carrying umbrellas into the park when there wasn't a rain cloud in sight. Sun-brellas!


beer-tentsThis week, July 1-6, is the Millenium Song Festival of Lithuania.  Each year there is a song festival on the first weekend of July, but every five years Lithuania holds a major song festival with Lithuanian song and dance groups from all over the world participating.  This year’s festival is both a fifth year one and in honor of Lithuania’s millenium — needless to say, this is going to be a really big festival.  On Sunday, I came across preparations for the song festival at one of the city parks.  A large group of young people were practicing dances and a crew was setting up beer tents.  Music and beer — the two key ingredients for a successful festival!

P.S.  Can you tell that I am enjoying the video feature on my little digital camera!?

Last Tuesday, a friend and I went to the Midsummer festivities in Verkiai Park on the outskirts of Vilnius.  We had quite an adventure.  First, I knew that an event was being held in Verkiai Park, but I didn’t know where — and it is a big park.  We took a bus to the part of the park where I had been before.  I figured that if we walked down to the river, we would eventually find the festivities.  Well, eventually was 45 minutes later after a long walk through the forest and an equally long walk along a narrow road with no sidewalk (and lots of cars on their way to the festivities).  It turns out I had taken us to the opposite end of the park from the event location.  Fortunately my friend is very patient!

We finally arrived to find hundreds of people enjoying the beautiful, warm evening.  People were having picnics on the grass and children were playing.  Men and women were wearing wreaths made of oak leaves and flowers.  I wanted to get a wreath woven for me, but the line was very long.  About 9:15, the fire rituals started with the burning  of a twig bundle on the top of a stick.  As you’ll hear me say in the video below, I think that the woman explaining the ritual said it represents the sun.  Next a large bonfire was lit.  A traditional music group played music throughout the evening.  People around us were dancing traditional dances on the grass.  Just after I took the video below of people dancing around the bonfire, we joined in.

Once the bonfire burned down, you are supposed to jump over the fire.  And at midnight, the crowd was going to go to float their wreaths down the river.  Because I had to go to Riga the next morning, we started to leave at 10:30.  However, we ran into someone my friend knew, got to talking and didn’t leave the park until 11:30.  As a result, we missed the last bus.  Just as we reached the main road, the heavens opened up.  Thunder, lightning, a deluge of rain.  We ran to a bus shelter and tried calling for a taxi, but of course everyone else was calling for a taxi.  We waited about 30 minutes in the bus shelter with about 15 other people.  A group of three women tried to flag down every taxi that passed by.  One finally stopped, but the two women already in the taxi said they could only take two more passengers.  Luckily, my friend had spoken to the group of three women earlier so they called to us and we hopped in the taxi.  I gave the driver our addresses and the two original passengers told the driver to take them home and then take us home.  The woman in the front seat looked at us and said in English, “You have no choice.”  We said, “We are just happy to be in a taxi on our way home!”   What a night!

Thousands of people stayed up all night in Vilnius on Saturday to celebrate the summer solstice at the Let There Be Night festival.  I didn’t manage to stay up all night, but I was out quite late enjoying the festivities.  There were stages and performance venues throughout the city center.  Museums  and galleries stayed open all night.  Events includes music performances, poetry readings, films, illusionists, and more.  Vilnius doesn’t seem to have laws banning open containers since we saw quite a few people walking around with bottles of beer.  But I was impressed with how well-mannered the crowd was — no raucous drunks or violence or vandalism that I observed.  People were there to enjoy the shortest night of the year — and it was a lot of fun!

Listening to Beethoven's Sonata Nr. 7 in the park at 11 p.m.

Listening to Beethoven's Sonata Nr. 7 in the park at 11 p.m.

The Fire Dancers' van making its way through the crowd to the performance site.

The Fire Dancers' van making its way through the crowd to the performance site.

The Fire Dancers performing across from Cathedral Square at 12:30 a.m.

bubblesWhen I want to know what young, hip, artsy Lithuanians are up to, I read  The Laimikis blog features photos of young musicians and artists, as well as random young, hip Lithuanians on the street.  The group also engages in street art and urban games, such as Monday’s Burbuliatoriaus in Lukiškių Park.  A blog post on June 10 invited people to come to the park at 18:30 on June 15 and blow bubbles.  I was one of about 75 people who showed up.  The sun was shining; bubbles were floating through the air; people were laughing.  It was a lovely way to spend an evening.  You can enjoy a little bit of the evening yourself with my very first blog video!