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Haapsalu winter fair focuses on Seto rather than Russian culture

Seto leelo singers at the Haapsalu winter fair.
Seto leelo singers at the Haapsalu winter fair. Source: ERR

This Saturday, Haapsalu's annual winter fair took place on Saturday. While in previous years the annual celebration was known as the Russian Fair, this year, due to Russia's war in Ukraine, it was renamed the Three Kings Fair, with a cultural program, which focused on Seto culture.

For years, the city of Haapsalu has held a winter fair on the first weekend of January, making Orthodox Christmas. However, Russia's full-scale military invasion of  Ukraine led the town to change both the name and focus of this year's fair, as it was not considered appropriate to continue using its previous name.

"It used to be this magnet for tourists from the east, but nothing good comes from the east anymore. We had to make some changes here, and so we did. Now the Setos have come from the south," said Mayor of Haapsalu Urmas Sukles.

The Christmas traditions, dances as well as the "leelo" songs of the orthodox Seto people were introduced to those visiting the fair in Haapsalu by two leelo choirs: Sõsarõ and Siidisõsarõ.

"We introduced the joy of the winter holidays, because, the Setos also have Christmas traditions and today is the first day of the holidays, so there is a reason to sing and dance. We introduced (people to) some folk dances and then some winter songs," said Sõsarõ choir leader Elvi Nassar.

Karja tänav in Haapsalu's old town was filled with stalls, selling food, drinks and more. Neeme Sihv, who visited the fair, enjoyed that there was a chance to buy homemade products.

"It's cold, but apart from that, it's nice, because people are cheerful and I've bought a few things. I wanted to get some syrup and smoked fish, and there seems to be a few other things here," said Sihv.

Saturday's fair was the first major event in Haapsalu's cultural calendar in 2023.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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