Ivan Kupala: Pagan Holiday So Much Loved in Russia

On the night of July 6-7, Russians celebrate the Holiday of Ivan Kupala. It is associated with interesting customs and traditions that are still popular. There are legends that on the night of Ivan Kupala, supernatural creatures wake up, and water and fire acquire magical power. 

Picture: FireNews

Ivan Kupala is a pagan holiday of the summer solstice, praising flowering and fertility. From time immemorial, it has been customary to perform rituals of ablution and purification on this day. It was believed that bathing on a holiday helps to get rid of diseases.

The holiday coincides with the Nativity of John the Baptist. According to the old style, the date of the holiday is June 24, but according to the Gregorian calendar, it is July 7.

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John the Baptist, according to the Bible, is the son of an elderly couple: the priest Zacharias and his wife Elizabeth. John predicted the birth of Jesus Christ, and then baptized him in the waters of the Jordan. Some historians believe that the name “Ivan Kupala” is directly related to the name of John the Baptist (“Ioann Krestitel” in Russian).

So, it was believed that in July on Ivan Kupala you need to go to the pond and swim. In the old days, on this day, they jumped over the bonfire. At midnight, it was customary to look for a flowering fern.

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The ancient Slavs believed that mermaids, goblins, and other evil spirits went hunting on Ivan Kupala. They were sure that on this night, water and fire acquire magical power. The flowering of the fern was also considered magic. To see it, promised good luck and happiness.


The main characters of Ivan Kupala were two elements: fire and water. It was believed that the dew on this day has magical power. Anyone who has time to collect the life-giving moisture covering the plants in the morning and wash with it will prolong youth and be incredibly beautiful.

The first bathing in the pond was advised to do alone on the evening of July 6 before sunset. Only then at night it was possible to participate in mass swims. According to beliefs, on the night before Ivan Kupala, water creatures fall asleep at the bottom of reservoirs and will not be able to disturb bathers.

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Also on this day, people pour water over each other, everyone except pregnant women, children and the elderly. According to a number of sources, it was necessary to pour dirty water so that a person would go for a swim in a clean one. The more often he did this, the purer his soul became. Nowadays, the tradition of pouring water on Ivan Kupala Day remains the most popular – children and even some adults do it on July 7.

Also on Ivan Kupala, closer to sunset, it was customary to kindle Kupala bonfires on the shores of reservoirs or on hills. In pagan times, it was believed that the bonfire has healing power, and jumping helps to be purified: whoever jumps over the fire higher will have the happiest year.

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A mandatory attribute of Kupala gatherings around the campfire was an effigy, which was burned all together.

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One of the traditions of the holiday was related to cooking. It was believed that the more different treats there were for Ivan Kupala, the happier the coming year would be. They tried to feed the guests heartily, they did not let them leave the tables half-starved.

It was also customary for girls to choose a betrothed one and, holding hands with him, jump over the Kupala bonfire. If the hands stay together during the jump, then this is for an early wedding. It was also considered a good sign if sparks from the fire flew after the couple.

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Another important tradition of the holiday is the collecting of medicinal herbs. According to legend, it is on this day that herbs receive great powers from the Earth and the Sun.


One of the most popular fortune-telling on Ivan Kupala is associated with a wreath. It is necessary to weave a fortune-telling wreath from field plants and flowers on this day. With its help, one can guess at the fulfillment of a wish. For this, you need to lower the wreath into the water closer to midnight and watch it. If the wreath floats far away, the wish will come true, but if it is washed ashore, it will not.

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Picture: Gramona

Also on Ivan Kupala, unmarried girls visit temples to put candles there. Then the candles are taken home and melted. The wax is poured into cold water and the resulting pattern is examined. If wax resembles a heart, it is a sign of a strong love, flowers mean new acquaintances, and a ring — a wedding.

Many weather signs are also associated with the holiday. If there is a downpour on this day, it will lead to a long drought. Getting caught in the rain foreshadows a person’s luck in money. A rainbow promises great luck, and sunny and cloudless weather leads to an abundance of harvest. A lot of dew meant a notable harvest of cucumbers. At night, people looked at the sky – if it was covered with stars, they knew it was for mushrooms.

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Prohibitions on July 7

The pagan holiday, which has been celebrated for a long time by Russians, has many omens and prohibitions. It is forbidden:

  • To sleep. People believed that at night, livestock could suffer from evil spirits. As soon as they heard some noise, they immediately started shouting and knocking, driving away demons.
  • To lend money. Kupala debts were given back infrequently, and a generous gesture could lead to impoverishment.
  • To sell some of your things or give them away. Otherwise, illnesses and severe trials would come.
  • To cut flowers for a bouquet. This could lead to trouble and family quarrels. But it is allowed to collect herbs, which on this day they have a special power.
  • To take the money found on the day of Ivan Kupala. This would lead to misfortune, financial collapse, and illness.

Ru-Main, 07.07.2022
Source: Teacher’s Newspaper  

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