Photo: Kalinovskiy / ukraine.ua/imagebank

IvanKupalaNightamysteriouscelebrationinsearchofluck

Can you imagine jumping over fire, divination, dancing, swimming, guessing, searching for a magic blooming plant that never existed, and all this stuff in the middle of the night? Looks like a quest, doesn’t it? Still, this is how Ukrainians celebrate Ivan Kupala Night, an extraordinary ancient holiday, beloved for its original traditions and rites. 

A girl wearing a wreath of wildflowers — a common Ivan Kupala ritual.
Wearing a wreath of wildflowers
Photo: julitt, ukraine.ua/imagebank

What is Ivan Kupala Night?

People’s celebration of summer and sun is quite common across the nations of Europe. The holiday itself has many names — flakagajt (the day of fire) in Albania, Saint Jeans (St. Jean) in France, midsommar in Sweden, sobotka in Poland, Ivana Kupala in Ukraine, and more. The celebration of Ivan Kupala Day falls on June 24 (old style calendar) or July 7 (new style) and worships the summer solstice. In Ukraine, we traditionally celebrate it on the night of July 6-7 — all mysteries happen right then…

Origin

Actually, the Ivan Kupala celebration has roots from some early days and a pagan origin. What is hidden in its title? Ivan, a widespread Christian Slavic name, is associated with John the Baptist. By the way, Ivan Kupala Night coincides with one of the biggest Orthodox holidays in his name. And how about Kupala? This refers to the word ‘bathing’ of Slavic origin and the name of Kupala (also called Kupaija) — the god of fertility and harvest. Pagan, of course. Believe it or not, but some theories connect Ivan Kupala with Cupid, the Roman god of love. Well, folks could find their true love that night, so everything is possible. 

Rituals

Never can there be a real Ivan Kupala Night celebration without magnificent pagan rituals! Though these are certainly old and have a magical meaning, which someone can trust or not nowadays, the ritual actions are still popular. Why not?

Using the power of fire is a traditional way to celebrate Ivan Kupala Night.
Fire show
Photo: Ukrainian Cultural Foundation, ukraine.ua/imagebank

The rituals are actually based on ideas of purification and lavation and have turned into somewhat artistic ones across the centuries. They also have much to do with nature, its spirit, and forces, such as water, fire, and vegetation. No surprise that people take what nature gives us to put the magic in force and encourage procreation, health, happiness into their life. The nighttime can help to enhance the power of ritual. As many believe, you can talk to fire, water, earth and unlock their secrets while getting extreme strength only at night. But beware — nature around us can also do harm. At least, so people say.

Ivan Kupala is a mysterious Slavic holiday to celebrate midsummer.
Ukrainian Midsummer — dancing around fire
Photo: davit85, ukraine.ua/imagebank

Here are some traditional rituals conducted on Ivan Kupala Night in Ukraine:

  • dancing around the Kupala tree 
  • jumping over the fire
  • weaving of wreaths 
  • sinking of tress
  • burning of sacks of straw
  • eating a ceremonial Ukrainian dinner with varenyky, eggs, and liquor 

How to organize your own Ivan Kupala Night celebration Ukrainian style?

  1. Gather with your friends at the bank of a river and light up a fire. 
  2. Take a bath so that you can stay healthy and get rid of sins. Remember to be careful and don’t get caught by mermaids! 
  3. Jump over the bonfire with your partner. Get concentrated before jumping because stumbling is a really bad sign. Just don’t ask what that means!
  4. Float a wreath that you’ve weaved out in the water. Strongly recommended for singles only. Otherwise, we are not responsible for the consequences of breaking the rule!
  5. Try to find a blooming fern at night and let all your dreams turn into reality! Besides, you’ll be able to understand animals, become invisible and farseeing, unlock treasuries… In short, you’ll be almost almighty. The last rule is just don’t google if fern can bloom. You need to have some faith in it!

Here is one more tip — the charming power of Ivan Kupala Night doubles if you join our celebration in Ukraine. Visit Ukraine one summer!

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