In the habit of most recent years , I will endeavor to give my thoughts and overall impressions on the Feast of Tabernacles that I had this year in the lovely town of Kuressaare, Estonia, with about sixty-five other brethren. As I have noted before, I am a person with rather consistent desires and pleasures and hopes and expectations out of the Feast, and if this feast was not the best feast ever, it certainly belongs towards the top quarter or so of the feasts overall. This was very clearly a time for reflecting on where I am in life and where I am going, and even though Estonia is a fairly alien place with an unfamiliar language, there was a lot here to remind me of my own upbringing and background. The tormented history of the Estonian people and those of the island of Saaremaa in particular, being caught in conflicts between larger rival powers, having their land overrun, themselves subjected to servitude, and striving to maintain a sense of dignity despite their misfortune, is one that I could relate to all too well. The great amount of German architecture and the general peasant farmer feeling of the areas I saw reminded of my own heavily German and peasant farming background. And during the Feast itself there were continual reminders of my own search for dignity, offices of responsibility, and even my own singlehood and longings for a wife and a family of my own. This was not a feast where the fulfillment of such longings was promised or even hinted at, but it was clearly the sort of feast for recognizing them and owning up to them.
Messages/Spiritual: If not quite as moving and emotional as the messages last year, the messages this year were a definite high point, especially given the small size of the feast and therefore its pool of speakers. [Full disclosure: I gave two of the messages at this Feast of Tabernacles myself .] Among the more notable elements of the Feast itself were the fact that everyone seemed to be on the same page, seeking to present a concrete and practical vision of the millennial kingdom of Jesus Christ and pointing to our need to prepare for our responsibilities as king and priest and judge. Without any sort of prior concert, we went to the same passages, even the same relatively obscure passages, as we examined these matters, and it was clear that those of us who were speaking were of the same mind about what we needed to focus on. Even the seminar and Anticipation circle  reinforced the point about being practical in our approach to relationships and possessed of a detailed vision of what we are looking forward to in the world to come. This was certainly a welcome approach. Having the feast with brethren from Latvia and Estonia and other countries reinforced the longing for unity despite the differences of culture and background possessed by the brethren there, who found striking similarities, especially when reflecting on our own personal and family histories.
Personal/Social: This was a feast that was good as far as social relations without providing anything remotely approaching romantic tension. As has been the tradition in recent feasts, being single is something that provoked a fair amount of commentary, and the focuses on some of the messages on mate selection and family were fairly predictably personally taken. That said, the feast was quite good on a social level. For the first time in six years I was able to spend a good deal of time with my mother and stepfather. I got to catch up with some friends I had only known online or had not seen in several years since I was a regular participant in the globetrotting group of brethren of UCG, and I got to make plenty of new friends among a diverse group of people. I even got to make an acquaintance of our friendly tour guide when we went on our epic island tour of the island of Saaremaa. I had been told prior to the feast that the Estonian people are particularly cold and unfriendly, and that the same is true in general within the Baltic countries, but what I found, at least among those people that I was able to meet, including the hotel staff, that the Estonians and Latvians are more shy and awkward than they are cold and unfriendly. Being a somewhat awkward person myself, I was more than a little empathetic to their plight, but somehow I had a hard time convincing the young folk I encountered that I was not a particularly scary or terrifying person, although I was able to have friendly conversations with plenty of the comparatively many teens and young adults there.
Adventure/Fun: This site certainly had a lot of adventure and fun as far as I was concerned. I had one day where I relaxed during the day, but for the most part I found plenty of fun and plenty to explore within the area of the Feast site . The orienteering was a success, the island of Saaremaa was full of lovely sights, and the complicated Kuressaare castle managed to adequately display the complicated nature of the history of this island, which clearly hopes for a millennium of peace given the reality of war for so much of the island’s turbulent history. If you find it fun to see Old World castles, explore World War II battlefields and Dutch windmills, as well as engage in the exploration of cities in search of markers, there is much to enjoy here. Others enjoyed themselves by a lot of drinking, and there was plenty of booze to be found for those whose idea of fun was a little bit different from my own. So far as I could tell, everyone was enjoying themselves and having a good time, and adventure was there for those who wanted it.
Food/Health: Towards the end of the feast I got a bit of a cold, but that is not too unusual and certainly did not diminish my enjoyment of the Feast. For most of the Feast, the weather was sunny. Some people struggled a bit with their health, including one of our toddlers at the Feast, who had a fever for several days, but for the most part people felt well and were able to enjoy the activities and messages. The food at the Feast was quite excellent in terms of its quality as well as its quantity. Two meals a day were provided at the hotel we stayed at, the George Ots Spa Hotell (Estonian words feature a proliferation of double vowels or consonants), usually breakfast and dinner, both of which were hearty and meant that few eating had to be done outside of the hotel. The cuisine featured strong German elements, lots of fish and chicken and beef, and plenty of Estonia’s fantastic and delightfully quirky black bread, and there was plenty of food for those who enjoyed it, and even some food for those with gluten-free diets, as was the case for some of the people her. The breakfasts were a particular high point with the chicken, 8-minute boiled eggs, salad, bread, and potato and cheese pies that I enjoyed with copious amounts of apple juice on a daily basis before rushing off to choir practice. Overall, the food was a representation of the Feast of Tabernacles this year as a whole, a hearty and practical sort of Feast of Tabernacles that focused on understanding the reality of our present life and life in the world to come.
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