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Interesting facts about Russian summer holiday Ivan Kupala

enjoy russian author living in australia
Elena, post’s author

Welcome to our new edition of Matryoshka’s Diary. Did you know that Ivan Kupala night is coming up next weekend (6-7 July 2019)? Today our author Elena will be sharing some interesting facts about this (not widely known to foreigners and tourists) summer celebrations. If you are visiting Russia this summer, this is a must-see celebration for those willing to learn more about the culture of our country.

What is Ivan Kupala Night?

Ivan Kupala is a traditional Slavic holiday. This year it will be held 6-7 July 2019 according to the Julian or Old Style calendar. This celebration is sanctioned by the Russian Orthodox Church. It is celebrated in Russia, Belarus, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine during days of the summer solstice. The celebration relates to the summer solstice when nights are the shortest and includes a number of Pagan rituals. The Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian name of this holiday combines “Ivan” (John — the Baptist) and Kupala which is related to a word derived from the Slavic word for bathing.

What is so special about this summer night?

The eve of Ivan Kupala is special. Ceremonies conducted on this day, are associated with fire, grass and water: it is customary to kindle fires on the banks of rivers and jump over them, do circle dances, swim, collect grass to weave wreaths and do some fortune-telling. One of the main traditions of the holiday – swimming in lakes and rivers. Water in reservoirs on Ivan Kupala becomes healing, acquires special magical properties. In addition, on Kupala night mermaids leave lakes and rivers, so, until August 2, Ilyin day, you can swim safely. Peasants believed that on Ivan Kupala Night (the shortest night of the year) they should not sleep, because all the evil spirits were awakened – witches, werewolves, mermaids, snakes, warlocks, mermen and woodland spirits.

What to do on the Ivan Kupala night?

  • The main feature of Ivan Kupala Night was the cleansing bonfire. People used to dance around bonfires and jump over them: The one who jumped the highest bonfire was considered to be the happiest person.
  • On Ivan Kupala Day, at sunset by the river or on a high hill, young people test themselves of bravery and faith jumping over the flames of bonfires. The failure of a couple in love to complete the jump while holding hands is a sign of their destined separation.
  • The celebration also includes circle dances, singing folk songs, playing games. Slavs believed that the fire on Ivan Kupala Day has a healing cleansing power, reduces damage and wards off evil spirits.

Ivan Kupala Night: the magic of herbs and plants

Herbs in Midsummer Night acquire magical power, become especially healing, give health and vitality, protect from evil spirits. Ivan-grass harvested at night or at dawn is dried, and used all year. One of the symbols of Midsummer – ‘Ivan-da-Marya’ flower. According to an ancient legend, the juice squeezed from the plant returns the ability to hear, and returns lost mind. Collected on Kupala night flowers of Ivan-da-Marya are put in the corners of rooms so that thieves could not get into the house.

Great force for protection against evil spirits possessed wormwood: it was dried and hung in the house, woven into wreaths and worn on a belt. To scare away witches who become especially dangerous on Midsummer night, the plant of nettles is laid out on the doorstep and window sills in the house. According to legend, the night before Midsummer fern is blooming. If you find and pick this flower – you can acquire the ability to see the treasures buried underneath the surface of the earth, understand the language of animals, open all the locks, just attach a flower to them, you can receive the gift of foresight, take any shape and become invisible. To make it memorable, make a wreath, stuck candles into it, leave it on the water. If the wreath doesn’t sink – then marriage is expected to happen soon. The longer the wreath stays on the surface of the water – the happier life will be.

Visiting Russia this summer? Join us at the Enjoy Russian Language School to explore our unique culture, make new friends and learn Russian 🙂