Religious fasts and feasts in the representations of Seto culture

The integration of the (orthodox) Setos into the Republic of Estonia established in 1918 soon revealed some conflicts due to cultural differences.  The modernized Estonians tended to patronize their „lesser brothers” and to reform their culture and lifestyle, which was considered old-fashioned and reactionary. There was a change in attitude towards Seto religious practices in Estonia, namely, their traditional fasts became a public health issue, their food offerings were discussed in relation to economy and their celebration of church holidays all of a sudden belonged to the discourse of crime and alcoholism. The economic benefits or harms of Seto religious practices as well as their health effects were contemplated without considering the fact that for Setos the observation of traditional ritual practices, such as, for example, church festivals and commemoration of the departed was the only possible way and as such it did not partake of the categories of health or economy.

Based on the material kept in the Estonian Folklore Archives the article discusses the role of Seto religious feasts and fasts in their self-image as well as in their early representations, especially in the texts of the discourse of Seto Estonization, which began in the 1920s. It is demonstrated how the modernized Estonians, who emphasized secularism, abstinence and Estonian nationalism,  used to stigmatize the fasts and religious feasts of the Seto, which were the most conspicuous features of their religious and everyday ways.