May 4, 2022
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Traditions on Ivan Kupala

Ivan Kupala is an important holiday in the life of the Eastern Slavs. It is associated with the period of the summer solstice, which was sacred for people in previous centuries. Nature was at its peak, and different peoples honored it. The holiday was celebrated on June 24, but with the transition to the new calendar, it moved to July 7. Many traditions and rituals are associated with it, and every year modern people are more willing to return to the customs of their ancestors, which is the reason for the increased interest in Ivanov’s day.

Round dance around the fire

Who is being bathed?

Many rituals, traditions and customs of this day are connected with water. Even the name speaks of swimming. In fact, it comes from the name of John the Baptist, since the “Baptist” is translated as “diver”, “dipper”. Ritual bathing was carried out in open reservoirs, combining the signs of paganism and Christianity.

Most of the traditions, rituals, rituals and customs for the holiday of Ivan Kupala are timed to coincide with the night. The festivities begin in the evening and continue into the night of July 6-7.

Spells and prayers

It was believed that this is the most favorable time for prayers to the God of the Sun – Yaril. He was prayed to send children or give them health. Also addressed were those who often had head lobes. In earlier periods, they did not pray to God on their own, but through the Magus or the Priest, who was able to read the necessary spells.

Round dance around the fire

In terms of magical content, Kupala was considered the same promising period as Christmas time: not only evil spirits became closer to people, but the forces of light were more willing to show their favor. Therefore, Kupala traditions and rituals were followed even by those who could neglect them the rest of the time.

Collection of herbs

The collection of herbs during this period was of particular importance for the Slavs. As it turned out later, this is no coincidence: in these weeks, the amount of essential oils and other useful substances is really at its maximum. In a period when healing was carried out only by folk methods, this was very important. Therefore, women began to collect medicinal plants from the very morning on the eve of the festival, in the morning hours, until the dew had disappeared. For the whole year, stocks of wormwood, St. John’s wort, coltsfoot were replenished, which then also had to be dried properly.

Collection of herbs

They also harvested plants and branches for the bath. They also collected thorny herbs – thistles, nettles, etc., to bring them home and spread them on the windowsill to scare away evil spirits and the human evil eye.

Girls, on the other hand, mostly collected flowers for bouquets, which are woven after sunset. To prevent the flowers from wilting, they were picked in the late afternoon.


The male part in Russia on the holiday of Ivan Kupala had their own duties and traditions. Guys and men were busy making Yarila dolls. For this, a young, even tree was picked up in the forest, most often a birch or willow, since they have a light bark. Its lower branches were hewn and installed in the center of the place where mass festivities were planned in the evening. The youth decorated this tree with colored ribbons and wild flowers.

Doll Yarilo

At the base, they tied a Yarila doll made with their own hands from rags. In the pelvic area, a goy made of wood was attached to him in front – this was the name of the divine reproductive organ, since it embodied a symbol of fertility and male power. It was disproportionately large and painted in bright scarlet. In front of the God of the Sun, sacrifices were laid out on a plate or on a cloth – various products and dishes in order to appease Yarilo and achieve good harvests and offspring from livestock.

ritual dinner

According to tradition, people ate special dishes in nature near the fire on Midsummer Day. The main one was “kulaga” – a special dish made from rye or buckwheat flour. First, the flour was kneaded with cold water, then poured with boiling water and boiled, adding oil and salt. Sometimes kulaga was made sweet, and instead of salt, honey was added to it.

Another traditional dish is “votive porridge” to remember one’s relatives who have already died. It was prepared by the whole village and treated to all travelers, the poor and the holy fools. What was left by the evening, it was necessary to finish eating, so that not a grain remained. Finishing the votive porridge, they turned to the heavenly forces with a request to grant health, prosperity, health to themselves and their children.

ritual dinner

In addition, on the Kupala evening they ate cottage cheese, eggs, game and lard.

Of the drinks, the main one was kvass on rye breadcrumbs. But this is not such a sweet drink that they drink now, but a real fermentation product that tastes more like beer. He refreshed and toned, and besides, they believed that he became magical on Ivan Kupala. To attract good luck, it was necessary to pronounce a special spell, drinking kvass sip by sip.


One of the main traditions in Russia on Ivan Kupala is weaving and launching wreaths. In old folk songs, restored by ethnologists, the legend from which this ritual arose is stated. The parents had a son and a daughter – Kostroma and Kupala, but by the will of fate they were lost in childhood and lived without suspecting the existence of each other. And one fine day, young Kostroma went for a walk by the river, where the wind tore off her wreath and threw it into the water. Sailing in a canoe past Kupala returned him to the girl. The young fell in love with each other at first sight and got married. Only after that did they find out that they were brother and sister to each other.

The newlyweds could not bear such a blow and drowned in the river. After that, Kostroma turned into Mavka, who lives along the banks of the rivers. She tearfully prayed to the gods to reunite them with her beloved, and the gods took pity: they wove the bodies of the drowned into a bathing-da-mavka plant. Later, the name was transformed into Ivan da Marya, and still remains so.


It was from this plant that young girls most often wove wreaths to put on their heads and their chosen one. It was believed that in this way they would be inseparable for a long, long time. The same dry wreaths were left at home for the whole year, because this amulet turned thieves away from the house.

At the end of the festivities, young people carried their wreaths to the river and let them go with the flow. It looked very beautiful and poetic in the light of the moon.


One of the obligatory attributes of the Kupala night is a fire. It is burned to ward off all evil spirits that wake up at sunset. Whoever jumps over the fire will be purified. At the same time, the fire was always made high, large, and not everyone decided to jump over it. Despite the danger, the jump had to be repeated three times.

Bonfire on Ivan Kupala

According to tradition, young couples in love also had fun with a fire. It was believed that after such a “baptism by fire” they would soon get married and live happily ever after.

round dance

Another invariable tradition of the Kupala holidays is a round dance around the fire with the singing of ritual songs about Yaril. Usually all the inhabitants of the village lined up in it, often people from several villages gathered. At these festivities, young people met, often pairs of boys and girls who liked each other formed right there. The round dance was led almost until dawn, but in the late hours the circle became much smaller, since all adults and old people went home for the night.

washing with dew

The festivities continued until dawn, and all this time they maintained a burning fire. But at dawn, the youth went to the forest or to the meadow to wash themselves with dew. It was believed that this would make a person prettier and more attractive. In order to become healthier, they went even further: they undressed and completely bathed in the morning dew.


Before dawn on Ivan Kupala, many swam in the nearest reservoirs. Therefore, festivities were most often held on the banks of rivers or lakes. Bathed, as a rule, undressed, boys and girls separately. Only young people took part in these bathings.

In some regions, on the contrary, it was believed that it was not worth swimming on the Kupala night, since it was a festive water hour. He strove to drag one of the people into the depths. In other places, they believed that mermaids come out of the depths to the shore, and if they like some bathing guy, they will tickle the young man and drag him to the bottom.

Field walks

One of the interesting traditions of celebrating Ivan Kupala ordered unmarried girls in a purely female company to go to the field with rye. There you had to take off all your clothes and run around the field naked 3 times in a row. After that, the girl will dream of the future groom, he will find her and make an offer.

Fern Search

At midnight they went in search of a flowering fern. It was believed that it blooms once a year only on the Kupala night. It was necessary to look for this wonderful flower in the very thicket of the forest, as it was hiding from human eyes. Above the place where the color of the fern was revealed, a glow should have been visible.

The girl who found the fern

The lucky one who nevertheless finds a fern that bloomed on Ivan Kupala will be very rich, healthy and happy, so the number of people who want to look for it has always been large. But it was necessary to go in search of solitude, as the flower hides from companies. The finder discovered the secrets of untold riches, he began to understand the language of birds and animals, but this could only happen to a very brave person. It was impossible to pick a fiery red flower, it was enough to see this miracle to get all the magic of this plant.


In addition to traditions and rituals, there were a number of signs on Ivan Kupala, which were paid attention to:

  • The girls released wreaths into the river and watched them float. If she sails on the shore where the girl herself stands, then she will marry in her village, if on a foreign shore, she will leave for foreign lands. If the wreath floats far downstream and disappears from sight, it means that this year she will remain unmarried, and if she drowns, the betrothed will fall out of love.
  • When jumping over the fire, they looked: whoever jumps the highest will be the luckiest and healthiest.
  • Childless women who jumped over a fire can expect to become pregnant for a year.
  • Stumbling in front of a fire is a disease.
  • Hook the base of the fire with your foot – to discord in the family.

Such interesting divination by signs remained one of the main entertainments of the holiday.


There were several traditional games played around the fire in the evening. These are catch-ups, racing, burners. Guys sometimes staged brawls in a playful way. The Yarilo doll was burned in the fire, singing songs. This meant that after the holiday, daylight hours would gradually decline.

The girls wondered, the guys measured their strength, and everyone believed that the God of the Sun after Ivan Kupala would give people happiness and a good harvest.


The traditions of Ivan’s Day are less preserved in Russia, but they have been preserved among the Eastern Slavs over the past centuries. For example, in Belarus this holiday is called Kupalle (Kupalle in Belarusian), and its traditions and customs differ in some ways.

For example, Belarusians believed that on this night the spirits descend to the earth and try to do all their bad deeds, and forest animals and plants can talk. As soon as the sun rises, all these miraculous abilities disappear until the next year.

Wreath in the water

Belarus has been holding the largest thematic festival “Kupalye” for 10 years already, the holiday is held with all the rituals and the preservation of centuries-old traditions. It is attended not only by local residents, but also by guests from Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and other countries. It is held in the town of Alexandria, Mogilev region, and visiting this festival becomes a real immersion in the culture of our Slavic ancestors.

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