Updated: Dec 28, 2022
Ivan Kupala is the biggest summer holiday known not only in Ukraine, but also in other European countries. This is the summer solstice holiday. Previously, it was celebrated on June 24, and now, according to the new calendar, on July 7.
This holiday combines pagan and Christian rites. Kupalo is a pagan deity (a symbol of the summer sun), and the name Ivan was added later, after the arrival of Christianity. It is associated with the name of John (Іван) the Baptist. But the church and the government forbade public celebrations on this day, because they were too reminiscent of paganism. In the 18th century, people were physically punished and excommunicated for celebrating Ivan Kupala.
However, the people were very fond of mystical rites and divination that came from paganism, and therefore people continued to celebrate Ivan Kupala secretly.
In the evening on Kupala, people always made a big bonfire. They believed that fire on this day has magical power - it cleanses, burns diseases and evil spirits (therefore, girls who did not come to the bonfire on Kupala night were considered witches). The bonfire was a very important symbol of the holiday. In it, they burned the clothes of sick people and believed that this would help fight the disease. Boys and girls gathered around him, led round dances, sang songs, and jumped over the fire. Such rites were supposed to protect them from all bad things for a whole year.
Another interesting ritual on Kupala, people often took a big wheel, wrapped it with straw, and let it down the mountain. This wheel was a symbol of the sun, which after the summer solstice rolls down, and symbolizes the approach of winter and the shortening of the day.
Unmarried girls have always waited for this holiday to divine their future. In the morning, they collected wild flowers and wove wreaths (they say that it was necessary to collect at least 12 herbs, each of which had its own meaning and power). In the evening, after sunset, the girls took out candles, tied them to wreaths and let them float on the water. If the wreath sinks, it means that the girl will not get married this year. If the wreath quickly floats away from the shore, then the girl will soon become a bride. And the girl whose wreath floats further than others will be the happiest.
The boys tried to catch the wreath of the beloved girl, because it was believed that the girl should marry the one who caught her wreath.
In Ivan Kupala, a lot of attention was paid to plants. On this day, women collected medicinal herbs and decorated the house with them.
And there is also a beautiful legend that only on the night of Kupala the fern blooms, and the one who finds this flower will be rich and happy! But an evil spirits have always prevented people from finding the fern flower.
Of course, this is nothing more than a beautiful legend, because the fern never blooms.
Also people made big scarecrows, one symbolized Kupala, the element of fire and the male principle, and the other - Marena, the element of water and the female principle. On this night, their wedding was played, as a symbol of the combination of these two elements. Usually scarecrows were made of straw or willow branches. In the evening, one of them was burned as a sacrifice to the sun god, and the other one was drowned as a sacrifice to the water god, so that there would be a rich harvest.
We really wanted to show you the Ukrainian traditions of celebrating Ivan Kupala, so we made this video! It is in Ukrainian with Ukrainian and English subtitles, so you also can train your listening skills in Ukrainian! Enjoy watching, friends!