Ivana Kupala Day 2018 – Ukraine’s Newest (and Oldest) Holiday

  • Ivana Kupala Day 2018 – Ukraine’s Newest (and Oldest) Holiday
Issue 113, June 2018.
Ivana Kupala Day 2018 – Ukraine’s Newest (and Oldest) Holiday
As Ukraine continues its quest to redefine Ukrainian culture, some traditional holidays have taken on more importance. Take, for example, Ivana Kupala Day – the Ukrainian celebration of summer solstice. Celebrated for centuries in Ukraine, the event has seen a revival in recent years. Leopolitans take pride in protecting traditional Ukrainian legacies, so it’s no surprise that the Western Ukrainian capital is one of the best places to celebrate the holiday. Among the country’s most picture-ready cultural festivals, you’ll want to have camera-in-hand on 6-8 July as you check out one of Ukraine’s most unique and folksy festivals.
Long Time Running
Like many other holidays in Ukraine, Ivana Kupala Day can trace it roots to pre-Christianity, pagan Ukraine. In those days, ancient ancestors celebrated fertility through bathing in water on midsummer. It’s easy to see how the event was transformed to celebrate John the Baptist’s birth after Christianity swept through the land in the 10th Century. In fact, Ivan Kupala was the name for John the Baptist in ancient Kyiv Rus. Marked by an uptick in secularisation, and with a concerted effort to initiate modern Ukrainian traditions, modern Kupala Day festivities are celebrated in a manner much closer to the days of the pagans, with traditions like fire-jumping, garland-floating, and fern-searching. In addition to folksy festivals, many museums and nightclubs now offer special programming, where you’re sure to see young Ukrainian women in traditional vyshyvanky (embroidered shirts) with flower garlands in their hair. 
Magical Fire & Water
Perhaps the most mesmerising and memorable moment of the weekend is the eye-catching tradition of fire-jumping. The activity is especially popular among lovestruck young couples, as it’s believed that a successful jump over the flames – imbued with a special magical quality from sunrays – will secure you good health and fortune. There is much to lose, as the success or failure of relationships depend entirely on keeping hands held throughout the leap. Ladies’ garlands are also imbued with magic and indicate that the young woman is yet-to-be-married. You might catch the young women float their garlands along the water – sometimes with a burning candle – in the hopes of discovering secrets about their future, especially marriage! You might also catch a young lad chasing down the garland of the lady he loves in an attempt to secure a midsummer’s kiss. 
Kupala in 2018
As the holiday continues to become more important in modern Ukraine, there are far more options to celebrate. For a traditional experience, you might want to head to Shevchenkivskyi Hai Park or the Ivan Kupala Festival in ancient Zhydachiv (65 km south of Lviv). Exhibits, garland-weaving workshops, and other Kupala-related activities will take place across the city, including on Rynok Square, at museums and cinemas, and in clubs and cathedrals. For a more modern take on Kupala Day, head to the special night shows at clubs like Anturazh, Picasso, or Renaissance. Remember to wear your vyshyvankas, while many ladies will be seen wearing garlands. Also, be prepared for special prizes if your name is Ivan or Ivanna, or Yan or Yanna (if you’re John or Hanna – be sure to say so!). No matter what you decide to do, Ukrainian midsummer is sure to be one of your most memorable cultural experiences of summer!