The first celebration attracted even Antanas Smetona, President of the Republic of Lithuania. Historical data shows that 60,000 residents and visitors took part in the festivities. This event could be considered the result of a decade-long process of forming the maritime identity. After 1923, when the Klaipėda region was incorporated into Lithuania, the country gained the status of a true maritime state, which gave rise to the creation of dedicated organisations and societies, thus starting the spread of various maritime ideas. In 1925, the Sea Day was organised in Palanga. At the time, the sector of maritime economy was gaining importance, thus the celebration in 1934 already had a slogan inviting everyone to join in: “To the sea, Samogitians, to the sea, Aukštaitians, to the sea, all Lithuania!”. Unfortunately, the onset of World War II stopped the tradition in its tracks, yet we can still claim that the first Sea Day set the tone for future celebrations – both the event that was reborn during the Soviet times and the one that we celebrate today. Respect towards the sea and sailors became the foundation of all festivals. Each year, ceremonies paying tribute to seamen, as well as parades, concerts and entertainment events were held, and each festival had peculiarities characteristic of that specific time.
After World War II, the Sea Festival was once again held on 18–21 July 1963. As Zita Genienė, Head of the History Department of the History Museum of Lithuania Minor, who is well‑respected for her insights and the accumulated historic facts about the festival, writes in her book “Development of Lithuania’s Maritime Culture in 1925–2014. The Sea Festivals”, the situation following 28 January 1945, when Klaipėda was captured by the Soviet Red Army, drastically changed: almost all of the old residents fled the city or were evacuated, which in turn changed the ethnic structure of society as well as the economic, political, ideological and cultural environment. The first post-war festival gained a military form of an ideological event. Although the festival’s nature became more vocational and recreational, professional artists still found their place there. Despite the Sea Festival becoming more ideological, a lot of valuable scenarios were created that later became traditional and are still popular at the Sea Festivals to this day. During the Reform Movement Sąjūdis that led the struggle for restoration of the state of Lithuania , the Sea Festival, which always attracted large masses, was, according to Zita Genienė, a perfect platform to spread the independence ideas. The search for a new meaning that would reflect the current times, as well as new forms of cultural expression began.
Today, the Sea Festival is not just a recreational event attracting large numbers of visitors but, first and foremost, a phenomenon that forms Klaipėda’s maritime identity. Its significant part is dedicated to events celebrating cultural memory, historic figures as well as the city’s and the region’s history. Since the very beginning, the Sea Festival’s flagship has been the proclamation that Lithuania is a true and proud maritime nation rather than merely a state enjoying access to the sea. There are few festivals in Lithuania to be as massive and long‑lasting as the Klaipėda Sea Festival. The largest and most popular summer festival celebrates its 61st anniversary this year – so let us all gather by the sea and once again proclaim Lithuania to be a maritime state, as each and every one of us plays a significant part in shaping the festival’s identity.
Mayor of Klaipėda