Ukraine celebrates Ivana Kupala, and recreates ancient traditional rituals

06 Jul 2018 | Ukraine
Ukraine celebrates Ivana Kupala, and recreates ancient traditional rituals

In pagan times, a millennium ago, Ukrainian women used to believe that by observing how a wreath of flowers floated on a river, they could divine their fortunes in relationships.

A wreath that floated signaled love was on the way, while one that sank foretold that the woman would remain single.

Young men would attempt to capture the floating wreaths to symbolically capture the hearts of the women who floated them.

The ritual was traditionally carried out by unmarried women on the night before the Ivana Kupala holiday (originally June 23 in the ancient Julian calendar, but now July 6). It is one of several ancient Slavic pagan rituals celebrating the summer solstice, when the days are at their longest in the northern hemisphere.

And while Ukraine has long been Christianized, some people, like 26-year-old Nataliia Koval, still keep up the old traditions.

Koval, who is the head of the Kyivan Rus theme park, teaches visitors to weave flower wreaths.

She cherishes the old traditions.

“I believe that our ancestors were intelligent people. They were people who respected nature, and revered and worshiped all of its symbols in everyday life,” she says. “Ukraine is not a 26-year- old country; it is a great state with a history longer than a millenium. It has always been admired and its enemies have always feared it. When people forget the history and traditions of their country, they become orphans.”

As well as telling love fortunes, the folk rites involve purification and fertility. They include jumping over a bonfire to prove one’s bravery and to cleanse oneself of sins. Some also believe that those who find a fern flower on the holiday (something a botanist would say is impossible, as ferns are not flowering plants), will be rich, healthy and happy for the rest of their lives.

“It is a well-known fact that the night of Ivana Kupala is magical. It is a night when all dreams come true,” Koval says.

Those who want to experience some of the magic of Ivana Kupala celebrations in and around Kyiv on July 6–8 can check out these options:

Park Kyivan Rus

Park Kyivan Rus, a theme park some 35 kilometers south of Kyiv, invites everyone to join in its folk festival dedicated to Ivana Kupala on July 6–8.

Visitors can observe a number of ancient rituals and customs, take pictures of themselves wearing traditional Kyivan Rus clothes, as well as try Ukrainian cuisine and strong traditional alcoholic drinks made with horseradish or honey.

The festival will feature various contests and games, including archery and horse riding displays and competitions, and workshops on medieval weapons. Festival attendees will also have a chance to learn how to weave a flower wreath and float it on the water, to jump over a bonfire, and to burn a Kupala scarecrow made of hay.

Park Kyivan Rus. July 6, 6 p. m.; July 7–8, 2 p. m. Hr 50–150. Kopachiv village. +38044 461 9937

Pyrohiv Outdoor Museum of Folk Architecture and Life of Ukraine

This venue on the southern edge of Kyiv will have a one-day celebration of Ivana Kupala — on the evening of July 6. The museum will recreate some old rituals, including traditional round dances, jumping over a bonfire, and weaving flower wreaths, all activities accompanied by Ukrainian folk music and songs.

In addition, Pyrohiv outdoor museum welcomes everybody to visit its traditional handicraft fairs.

Pyrohiv outdoor folk museum. July 6, 5 p. m. Hr 30–50. 1 Akademika Tronka St.+38098 913 8007

Sky Family Park

The Sky Family Park, besides hosting an ethnic festival called Night on Ivan Kupala, will also hold a traditional Japanese festival. Visitors will have an opportunity to explore the mystical world of the Japanese holiday of Tanabata, known as the star festival, held on various days in July and August each year.

Both events will feature festivities and workshops, including sessions on cake decorating, pottery, origami-making, mehendi painting (body art, using henna dye) and calligraphy. Ukrainian bands X-Rays, Lama, Kazka and Ukrainian Dance Company Asti School will perform during the celebrations.

Sky Family Park. July 6–7, 11 a. m. Hr 100. 2 Henerala Vatutina Ave. +38095 283 6555

Mamajeva Sloboda

At the celebration of Ivana Kupala in the Mamajeva Sloboda open-air museum in Kyiv’s Solomyanskiy district, men and women dressed as Cossacks will perform a show based on ancient Ukrainian traditions. The romantic atmosphere of the festival will be enhanced by live Ukrainian folk music.

When the sun goes down, a traditional Kupala bonfire will be lit for the participants to jump over. According to popular belief, couples jumping over the bonfire together will have a peaceful and harmonious life for the entire year.