VILNIUS - It happens only every four years, and this year is one of them. On July 5 - 8 the biggest, grandest gathering of all singing and dancing Lithuanians 's the Lithuanian Song and Dance Celebration 's will make its long-awaited return, and if there's any event this summer that you'll kick yourself if you miss, it's this one.
The festival has a long tradition that goes all the way back to the first "Song Day," held in Kaunas in 1924. No, it wasn't the world's first national song and dance festival 's the Swiss were the first to hold one in 1843.
However the Lithuanian Song and Dance Celebration is one of only three such events in the world that still take place these days (the other two of course are those put on by Latvia and Estonia). The event even went on during the Soviet period, when it became a form of resistance to what was seen as an invading culture. In 2003, the festival got a further boost when UNESCO officially declared the song and dance festivals of each of the three Baltic countries a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity."
This year's event will be unique in a couple of ways. For one, this is the first time since independence that the celebration is focused specifically on Lithuanians living in Lithuania and not those residing worldwide. That said, there will still be participants from 12 other countries, including Brazil, Canada, the United States, and Poland. In total 35,000 participants will flood Vilnius and Kaunas with their singing and dancing spirit.
And the title for the festival this year is "Buties ratu" ("In the circle of being"), with the thematic focus being the Sun. Two of the festival's main happenings 's the Folklore Day and the Ensembles Evening 's will be dedicated to the celestial body. Another important symbol of this celebration will be flax, which will be presented in the Dance Day in Kaunas.
So start on July 5 by listening to groups demonstrating their talents on that most traditional of Lithuanian instruments, the kankles. It'll give you the rare opportunity to hear a 400-strong orchestra of folk musicians. This will also be the first time you'll be able to hear Latvian kokles groups and Estonian kaneles groups taking part in the Lithuanian Song and Dance Celebration.
If you're in Vilnius on July 6, visit the Folklore Day, which starts at sunrise (4:51 a.m.) in Sereikiskiu Park and lasts till sunset. This is a great opportunity to hear authentic Lithuanian songs, experience ancient traditions, greet the sun and share the moment with thousands of others. You'll be amazed at how strangers from different regions will suddenly act like old buddies..
If you happen to be in Kaunas on July 6, you can still take part in the festivities by visiting the Dance Day in S. Darius and S. Girenas Stadium. Not only will you learn all about flax and its importance in Lithuanian culture, you'll be able to see synergies between traditional and contemporary dance. The organizers promise loads of flax color, clothing and flax-related rituals.
July 7 in Vilnius is dedicated to the ensembles. The big evening program "Saules vartai" ("Gates of the Sun") reflects the various folk celebrations held throughout the calendar year, and will showcase folk songs and dances with contemporary interpretations woven in.
July 8 is traditionally the key day of the celebration, and kicks off with a massive parade of the participants. After the parade, at 5 p.m., the "Dainos Ratu" Song Day starts. It's made up of four parts: folk song and its interpretation, a tribute to a cappella, music for youth and children's choirs and a joint performance of all choirs. It's amazing to watch people of various ages and backgrounds all singing as if they're part of one, single being, and hearing such a big crowd shouting "Lithuania" will cause your patriotic heart to flutter and make you feel warm and fuzzy all over.
Lithuanian Song and Dance Celebration
July 5 - 8
Vilnius and Kaunas
For ticket: www.bilietai.lt
Full program at www.dainusvente.lt