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Kupala Night: A Magical Slavic Summer Evening (Ivanа-Kupala)

Kupala Night: A Magical Slavic Summer Evening (Ivanа-Kupala)

Summary:

Kupala Night (Ivana-Kupala) is a traditional Slavic holiday celebrated in Eastern European countries on the 6th of July. Learn more about it here!

flower on kupala night of slavic traditions for the summer
Taken by Carlos Quintero via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

Ever heard of Kupala Night?

If you’re wondering what Kupala Night is, you’ve come to the right place!

In this article, you’ll learn when Kupala Night is celebrated, what are the main traditions during Kupala Night, and why it is considered to be one of the most magical nights of the year in the Slavic world.

What is the Kupala Night?

Kupala Night, or Ivana-Kupala, is a traditional Slavic holiday celebrated in Eastern European countries on the night of the 6th of July. Related to the summer solstice, this holiday involves all-night celebrations full of exciting rituals and fun festivities. On Kupala Night, people would build bonfires, dance, involve themselves in fortune-telling rituals, and search for the fern flower (we’ll explain that in just a moment!).

Related Read: Slavic Gods and Goddesses: Intro Into the Key Deities in Slavic Mythology

History of Kupala Night

Kupala Night is celebrated in Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, and Russia. This holiday is dedicated to the celebration of the summer solstice, which was celebrated on the 23rd of June, according to the Julian calendar used traditionally in the Slavic realm. That is why on the Gregorian calendar it takes place on the 6th of July.

What at first started as a pagan celebration later evolved and turned into a holiday devoted to John (Slavic Ivan) the Baptist (kupala comes from a word meaning “to bathe”), as his day was celebrated on the 23rd of June, as well. However, many attributes of Kupala Night were not approved of by the church, as they had pagan roots.

Even today, the holiday of Kupala Night is mostly condemned by the church. Nevertheless, you can easily witness these celebrations in small villages throughout Eastern Europe. Many young people of the newer generations are getting in on the action as well, particularly those who want to have some fun in an old-fashioned way, considering it to be a beautiful, mystical, and fun Slavic tradition.

Related Read: What’s the Difference Between the Gregorian vs Julian Calendar?

painting called Night on the Eve of Ivan Kupala
In this 1892 painting, titled ‘Night on the Eve of Ivan Kupala,’ by Henryk Siemiradzki, you can see some of the Kupala night traditions taking place around a bonfire. This painting is housed in the Lviv National Art Gallery in Ukraine and this image is in the public domain.

Main Traditions and Customs of Ivana-Kupala

Kupala Night is connected with nature in many of its manifestations, and all the rituals are attached either with water, fire, or greenery. 

Bonfires

Large bonfires were always the main attribute of Kupala Night and the center of all the action. Usually, bonfires were built on the bank of a river or a lake and they were believed to have purifying properties. These bonfires would burn all night, from the late evening through into the early morning, while other Ivana-Kupala activities would unfold nearby.

Jumping Over the Bonfire

Jumping over the bonfire was one of the biggest events of the evening, and, by doing that, people believed it protected them from evil spirits, diseases, bad luck, and misfortune. Young, unmarried couples would jump over the bonfire together, holding hands, to find out their future. If they would be able to jump over and not let go of each other’s hands, it would mean that they will have a long and happy life together. However, if they would not be able to do so, it would mean that they just might not get married after all. 

Searching for the Fern Flower

Another popular Kupala Night activity was the search for the fern flower, and, usually, only the bravest and most fearless of the holiday participants would go on this quest. According to legend, only one night a year, which is Kupala Night, somewhere in the forest blossoms the magical fern flower. The person who finds it will be able to understand animals, foresee the future, find any treasure, and become invisible. However, not only is it extremely hard to find, but, to make things more difficult, the fern flower is also guarded by evil spirits which makes it almost impossible for a mere mortal to pick up. 

Weaving Wreaths

Young women would usually gather in groups, each of them making a wreath from various nearby wildflowers and herbs. Later on, they would release their wreaths into the river, trying to ascertain their future by the fate of their wreath. If the wreath drowns or washes up on shore, it might mean that its owner will not ever get married or will have bad luck. However, if it will swim steadily, it means that she will happily marry soon. Sometimes, guys would jump into the water to grab the flower crown of a girl they wanted to impress, taking the future in their own hands.

Bathing in a Pond or a River

This tradition is very contradictory, as in some places it was believed that you must at least dip in the water on Kupala Night, as it will purify you and guarantee you to have a lucky year. However, in other regions, walking into the water was strictly prohibited, as people believed you could be kidnapped and drowned by the spirits of water.

Washing Your Face with Morning Dew

As the festivities lasted till the wee hours of dawn, one of the last rituals of this holiday was dampening one’s face with dew. It was believed this activity would bring this person luck and heal them from any diseases.

Related Read: 15+ Things to Do in Poland: Best Sites to Visit, Polish Places to Go & More

Well, that’s our take on the magical Kupala night, and we hope you enjoyed it! Got any questions, feedback, or other things to add about the Slavic holiday of Ivana-Kupala? Let us know in the comments below, and thanks for reading!

Mariia Kislitsyna
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Mariia Kislitsyna
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