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Ivan Kupala Day – A Celebration of Purity and Fertility

Every year a pagan fertility rite called Ivan Kupala Day is celebrated in Ukraine and Russia during the summer holidays. Depending on the calendar, the celebration either takes place on the 24th of June if you use the Julian calendar or on the 7th of July if you use the Gregorian calendar.

The Orthodox Church uses the Julian calendar and therefore celebrates Ivan Kupala Day in June. Although this is a pagan celebration, which originates from ancestral beliefs, the Orthodox Church has added Kupala day to many of its other celebrations. The Church has scheduled this occasion to coincide with the birth of John the Baptist in an attempt to make the celebration more of a Christian holiday. The name of the holiday ‘Ivan Kupala’ is Slavic: ‘Ivan’ means the same as John and ‘Kupala’ means bathing, hence the connection to John the Baptist.

Ivan Kupala is also an ancient Goddess of water and literally means “Water God” from pre-Christian mythology. The evening before this Holiday the elements of fire and water are used as part of the purification process. Children participate in various cleaning rites. Boys and girls are required to run and jump over a burning bonfire. Another of these rituals involves girls standing by a river with flower garlands in hand. When children drop the garlands into the water they watch how it moves and from this they can tell what will happen in their future. These purification exercises are believed to scare away the witches, werewolves, water spirits, nymphs and wood-goblins.

Participants in these celebrations believe that the evening before Ivan Kupala Day is the only time when ferns and other flora will bloom. Local inhabitants often spend the evening looking through their gardens and wandering around forested areas in hope that they will find a fern-flower. Finding a fern-flower is believed to bestow financial prosperity so do not be surprised if you are traveling in Russia or Ukraine on the 24th of June or on the 7 July because you will see crowds of people running around the towns while enjoying Ivan Kupala Day!

 



User Comments & Reviews: 1 Comment(s)

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Jeffrey Simpson - 2010-03-12 22:30:30

I lived in Russia for two years and experienced this holiday the way youth celebrate it - that is by dousing everyone with water. I was just wondering if you could explain how this celebration came to be and when. Any help you could give me would be appreciated. Thanks. Great article!

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