Kupala Night: What Is It & Why It Is Celebrated

Kalinovskiy /

Kupala Night is an ancient Slavic ritual that was traditionally celebrated on the evening of July 6 until the morning of July 7, which according to the old Julian calendar, was the evening of the summer solstice.

The celebrations of the summer solstice usually include music, bonfires, and crowds of people gathered around the fire holding hands and performing a traditional dance.

Celebrating the Solstice Around the World

The rest of the world celebrates the event on the evening of June 21. 

In the Northern Hemisphere, the celebration of the summer solstice is most enthusiastically celebrated in Sweden, Greece, Latvia, and in Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, and Poland.

One of the largest solstice celebrations in the world, happens near Stonehenge (in the UK) with many people witnessing the perfectly aligned sunrise [1].

These celebrations are remnants of past pagan traditions that were believed to bring happiness (marriage-wise), fertility, and offsprings.

Ivan Kupala Day

The term kupala is most likely derived from kupati which is the Slavic word for bathing or “to get wet”. 

In Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, the name of this holiday is a combination of “Ivan” (John the Baptist) and “getting wet”, as the ritual is associated with water.

On Ivan Kupalo Day people perform many pranks that usually include pouring water over somebody.

Slavic Pagan Tradition

Traditionally, the rituals on Kupala Night are performed with the belief that they will bring health and happiness to the home and the family. 

In Eastern Europe the ancient rituals have been adapted and they became a part of the “new” Christian traditions and local folklore. 

So Kupala Night is a collage of legends, mythical creatures, and a Christian holiday.

St. John’s Eve – Ivan Kupala Night

It is associated with John the Baptist, whose nativity is celebrated on June 24. 

However, the Kupala celebration is still performed in his name (that’s why it’s called Ivan Kupala Night and Ivan Kupala Day).

The water has the same function of ritual purification (like it does in Christianity). Everything is washed away with the water (Sins, dead bodies, and such, you know?).

Kupala Night is a time of “good humor” mischiefs and pranks.

Kupala Rituals

Beware at Nightfall

It is believed that no one should be sleeping on Ivan Kupala Night. 

All evil spirits such as witches, werewolves, mermaids, ghosts, and snakes awaken on that night (yeah snakes are evil, sorry snake-lovers).

Usually, people gather around ponds, rivers, lakes, and celebrate the evening around a fire while the gentle sounds of music dissipate across the surface of the water.

However, there is no swimming or getting in the water, because the evil spirits will try to drown you (fun times!).

Kupala Herbs

The herbs that are gathered for Kupala Night have especially strong healing powers. People would gather them and make traditional medicines and teas from them.

Wreaths of Wildflowers

On Kupala Night, young women weave wreaths of wildflowers. While weaving they get to make a wish (there is a higher chance of wishes coming true on Kupala Night. It’s just science).

On Ivan Kupala Day, the wreath is ready, and the girls let it go in a river. If it floats far away the wish will come true. But if it sinks or ends up on the shore, the wish won’t come true any time soon.

Jumping Over Bonfires

Jumping over a bonfire is another ritual performed on Ivan Kupala Night.

After sunset, huge bonfires are lit up and young people jump over them to test their bravery and faith in old gods.

It is common for young couples to jump together to test the strength of their relationship. 

Apparently, if they manage to jump over the fire together they will remain together. If they fail they will most likely split up as a couple (and you know third-degree burns).

The Legend of the Fern

There is a belief that Kupala Night is the only time of the year when the fern flower blossoms (well this day and during the winter solstice) [2]. 

People gather in the forests on Kupala Night in search of the fern flower. The one who finds it will have a prosperous life filled with immense happiness and fortune.

Young unmarried women are usually the first ones to enter the forests, hoping to find the flower that will bring them love, marriage, children, and fortune.

Nobody has ever found the fern flower.



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