Kupala Night

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Kupala Night
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 June 23 (July 6)
Ends June 24 (July 7)
Date June 24, July 7
Related to Summer Solstice, Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Kupala Night, also known as Ivan Kupala Day (Russian: Иван-Купала; Belarusian: Купалле; Ukrainian: Іван Купала; Polish: Noc Świętojańska, Noc Kupały), is celebrated in Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, 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. 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.[1]


Simon Kozhin. Kupala Night, Divination on the Wreaths.

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.[2]

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 humans.

Folklore and Slavic religious beliefs[edit]

Ivan Kupala Day in Belgorod Oblast. 2011

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.

Taraxacum wreath floating on water

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ "/culture_art/traditions". russia-ic.com/. Retrieved October 2014.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)

External links[edit]