Ivan Kupala Day
Midsummer Festival, Ukraine
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Ivan Kupala Day (Feast of St. John the Baptist; Russian: Иван-Купала; Belarusian: Купалле; Ukrainian: Іван Купала; Polish: Noc Kupały), is celebrated in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia currently on the night of 6/7 July in the Gregorian or New Style calendar, which is 23/24 June in the Julian or Old Style calendar still used by many Orthodox Churches. In Poland (Mazowsze and Podlasie) it is celebrated on the night of 23/24 June. Calendar-wise, it is opposite to the winter holiday Koliada. The celebration relates to the summer solstice when nights are the shortest and includes a number of Pagan rituals.
The Ukrainian, Belarusian and Russian name of this holiday combines “Ivan” (John — the Baptist) and Kupala which is related to a word derived from the Slavic word for bathing, which is cognate. The latter is reinterpreted as John’s baptizing people through full immersion in water (therefore his biblical title of the Baptist). However, the tradition of Kupala predates Christianity. Due to the popularity of the pagan celebration, with time it was simply accepted and reestablished as one of the native Christian traditions intertwined with local folklore.
The holiday is still enthusiastically celebrated by the younger people of Eastern Europe. The night preceding the holiday (Tvorila night) is considered the night for “good humour” mischiefs (which sometimes would raise the concern of law enforcement agencies).
Folklore and Slavic religious beliefs
Many of the rites related to this holiday within Slavic religious beliefs, due to the ancient Kupala rites, are connected with the role of water in fertility and ritual purification.
On Kupala day, young people jump over the flames of bonfires in a ritual test of bravery and faith. The failure of a couple in love to complete the jump while holding hands is a sign of their destined separation.
Girls may float wreaths of flowers (often lit with candles) on rivers, and would attempt to gain foresight into their relationship fortunes from the flow patterns of the flowers on the river. Men may attempt to capture the wreaths, in the hope of capturing the interest of the woman who floated the wreath.
There is an ancient Kupala belief that the eve of Ivan Kupala is the only time of the year when ferns bloom. Prosperity, luck, discernment and power would befall on whoever finds a fern flower. Therefore, on that night, village folk would roam through the forests in search of magical herbs and especially the elusive fern flower.
Traditionally, unmarried women, signified by the garlands on their hair, are the first to enter the forest. They are followed by young men. Therefore, the quest to find herbs and the fern flower may lead to the blooming of relationships between pairs of men and women within the forest.
It is to be noted, however, that biologists have held the persistent scientific fact that ferns have never and will never bloom.