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| Home | Travel | Ethno-Tourism | Kupala Night

Kupala Night in Belarus


When summer is in full swing, Belarus celebrates Kupala Night (or Kupalle), one of the oldest folk holidays dedicated to the sun and efflorescence.

Many nations across the globe have holidays related to the summer solstice: St. John Day in Western Europe, Jani (or Ligo) in Latvia, Ivan Kupala in eastern Slavic countries. However, it is Belarus where Kupala Night traditions have survived virtually intact and where this holiday is celebrated very enthusiastically.

History

Kupala Night Magical rites and rituals of Kupala Night date back to pagan times. The word "Kupalo" meant "wrathful", "scorching", "blistering" – that was the way our ancestors described the sun and its properties. On this night people also thanked and honored other powers they worshipped, like the Fire, the Water and the Earth.

This pagan holiday was later accepted into the Orthodox Christian calendar and was timed to the birthday of John the Baptist. As the words "Kupalo" and "kupat" ("to bathe", "immerse in the water") sounded similar, they were put together to give a new name to the holiday – Ivan Kupala.

When is Kupala Night Celebrated?

In Belarus this holiday came to embrace both Christian traditions and pagan rites. Today this holiday is celebrated on the night of 6/7 July in the Gregorian calendar and on the night of 24/25 June in the Julian calendar.

Kupala "miracles", Traditions and Rites

Kupala Night Kupala Night is associated with numerous legends and myths. Our ancestors believed that on this night rivers started glowing and mermaids emerged bathing in the water. Mermaids were believed to be the reincarnation of the souls of people who passed away. This night witches, sorcerers and ghosts roamed the earth trying to do harm to people; plants and animals started speaking and the sun "played" at dawn.

However, to see these miracles and to understand the language of plants and animals was only possible with the help of a fern flower that bloomed only once a year. The fern flower gave a supranational ability to see the future and find all the world’s hidden treasures. However, only a very bold person could get this elusive flower. Roaming through the forests in search of the fern flower was one of the most mysterious rituals of Kupala Night.

On Kupala Night Belarusians held many more symbolic rites:

Belarusian girls make beautiful wreaths from flowers of the field before Kupalle

            • collected medicinal herbs and flowers that acquired special healing powers on this night;
            • conducted a ritual of purification by fire (people jumped over Kupala bonfires, and also burned the wheel symbolizing "the Sun", clothes of the sick, old things);
            • did fortune telling (girls floated down Kupala wreaths in the rivers);
            • had a ritual dinner;
  • conducted rituals to protect homes and fields from evil forces;
  • carried out rituals for rich harvest and prosperity;
  • performed ritual songs and dances, noisy fun games;
  • did ritual cleansing with water at dawn, washed with dew.

From ancient times all villagers from the youngest to the oldest took part in Kupala Night festivities as only the joint performance of the rituals ensured the well-being.

Kupala Night Today

Belarusian Kupala Night Every year with the onset of the longest summer days and short nights Belarusians start celebrating Kupala Night on the banks of rivers and lakes. Today, these festivities are a mix of ancient traditions and rituals, theatrical concerts and fun games.

Kupala Night festivals are held in different part of Belarus, but there are some well-established traditions.

Alexandria Gathers FriendsThe largest Kupala Night holiday, Alexandria Gathers Friends, is held in Shklov District, Mogilev Oblast. Within a span of several years it has turned into a real brand of the country: numerous guests from Belarus and Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and other countries come here to join in the celebrations.

Alexandria Gathers Friends 2018

In Minsk, Kupala Night festivals are held in Loshitsa Park, Central Botanical Gardens, and the Zoo.

Kupala Night in Lake DistrictGuests can also see the traditions and hear authentic songs of different localities in the village of Ives on the shore of Lake Sho in Glubokoye District that stages the unique ritual folk celebration "Kupala Night in Lake District". The line-up includes singers and groups performing traditional songs in the traditional manner.

Kupala Night is celebrated in all cities and villages of Belarus. For example, residents of the village of Rakov, Volozhin District, mark the day making rounds of households and playing games at the ancient citadel. Turov, Zhitkovichi District, Lepel, Myadel, Slutsk, Zaslavl have their own festivals…

Original Kupala Night celebrations are also held in big ethnographic museums of Belarus:

Symbols and Souvenirs of Kupalye

Fountain with a Kupala sculptureBelarusian Kupala Night inspires people to compose songs, for example, a famous Belarusian folk song Kupalinka, poems, fairy tales, paintings and sculptures.

The pen-name of People’s Poet of Belarus Yanka Kupala derives from the festive night when he was born. There is a fountain with a Kupala sculpture in the Yanka Kupala Park in Minsk. Two young ladies symbolizing purity, youth and love float down wreaths in the water to foretell who their future husbands will be. Symbols of Kupala Night, a spring and a fern flower, can be seen at the bottom of the monument to Yanka Kupala.

Sculpture dedicated to Kupala Night in MolodechnoThere is a sculpture dedicated to Kupala Night in Molodechno. A woman with long hair and a man who is in love with her seem to appear from the fern.

In 2013 Belarus hosted the first contest for the best Kupala Night souvenirs and symbols (Alexandria Gathers Friends). The winning ideas were used to make souvenirs from straw, clay, leather, birch bark and other natural materials.

Festival in AlexandriaThey can be seen and bought at the festival in Alexandria. These are a fern flower made of straw "Paparat Kvetka" (the Grand Prix), Kupala wreaths, a basket "Paparat Kvetka", a ceramic panel "Kupala", a Kupala singer made of clay, a linen bag "Mother of the Kupala Fire", a vytinanka (paper cutout) "Kupala Night Flower".

In 2013 the tickets to the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus were decorated with the painting "Kupala Night" by the Belarusian artist Mikhail Filippovich.

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