Twelve thousand people crowded onto the stage of the Song Festival in Vilnius, Lithuania. With a massive choir, the stadium is set alight with the sounds of the national anthem as the country stands still and listens.
The festival is a special experience for many Lithuanians. With varied reactions, from excitement, joy, pride to a feeling of unity - for the Lithuanians in attendance at the Song Festival, there is a true feeling that everyone is part of a greater family.
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The festival is Lithuania's cultural equivalent of the FIFA World Cup, being held only every 4 years. The event sees ethnic Lithuanians coming from all corners of the world to join in the festivities. First started in 1924, the festival has since 2008 been listed on UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage along with the festival counterparts in Latvia and Estonia.
Choral singing is a central part of the Baltic republic's identities and histories. Some attendees to the festivals would even go so far as to say that they "sang their way to freedom" harking back to the 1980's where song was used in the revolutionary changes that took place in the nations. Accordingly, a large amount of the songs are about the identity and nationhood.
The festival in 2018 has a special significance. With songs, mass dances and procession to the singer's stages, it is amply evident that this year is different. This year marks 100 years since Lithuania declared independence from Russia for the first time and laid the foundations of the modern Lithuanian republic. In a time marked by rampant, crude nationalism, the festival in Lithuania is a refreshing celebration of national pride.
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While the festival draws from, and is, tradition - contemporary Lithuania is also a very modern country. As an innovator with information technology, the country is home to Europe's largest technology centre where engineers work on refining data encryption.
Vilnius is also something of a cultural hub with a vibrant and fresh art scene. In some local boutique stores, designers localise their designs by drawing inspiration from what makes the Baltics uniquely Baltic. The cuisine in Vilnius also reflects the meeting of new and old as local restaurants prepare, for customers, their own interpretations of traditional dishes using locally-sourced ingredients.
While the pace of modernisation continues to increase in Lithuania, it is reassuring to know that traditions like the Song Festival are still beloved by citizens of all ages and are unlikely to go away any time soon.
Plan Your Trip to Vilnius, Lithuania:
- Do SA residents need a visa: Yes a tourist visa is required - Read more about that here.
- Currency & exchange rate: Euro - €1 = R15.82
- Main Airport: Vilnius International Airport
- Airlines that travel there: American Airlines, United, British Airways, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Ryanair and more. Search for flights here.