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Night on the Eve of Ivan Kupala,
by Henryk Hector Siemiradzki
|Also called||Feast of St. John the Baptist; Иван-Купала; Купалле; Іван Купала; Noc Kupały|
|Observed by||Slavic people|
|Significance||celebration relates to the summer solstice|
|Begins||July 6 (June 23)|
|Ends||July 7 (June 24)|
|Date||24 June, 7 July|
|Related to||Summer Solstice, Nativity of St. John the Baptist|
Kupala Night, also known as 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, Baltic countries 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 Slavic rituals.
Some early mythology scholars, such as Sir James Frazer, claimed that the holiday was originally Kupala; a pagan fertility rite later accepted into the Orthodox Christian calendar. There are analogues for celebrating the legacy of St. John around the time of the summer solstice elsewhere, including St. John's Day in Western Europe.
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). On Ivan Kupala day itself, children engage in water fights and perform pranks, mostly involving pouring water over someone.
Folklore and Slavic religious beliefs
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 ferns are not angiosperms (flowering plants), and instead reproduce by spores; they cannot flower.
In Gogol's story The Eve of Ivan Kupala a young man finds the fabulous fern-flower but is cursed by it. Gogol's tale may have been the stimulus for Modest Mussorgsky to compose his tone poem Night on Bald Mountain.
- St John's Eve
- Wianki (Poland)
- Semik — a related spring holiday.
- Yanka Kupala — the pen-name of this Belarusian author refers to his birthday of July 7.
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