When Kupala Night is celebrated in Ukraine: what is strictly forbidden to do

Yulia PoteriankoLife
On Kupal night the whole village gathered around the fire, and the girls read fortunes about love

The feast of Kupala comes to us from pagan times. It is one of the greatest celebrations of the year. At that time it celebrated the summer solstice, the moment of the greatest power of the sun. With the advent of Christianity, it became intertwined with the celebration of the Nativity of John the Baptist.

OBOZREVATEL tells about the history of this holiday and its traditions, as well as the prohibitions and omens.

When do they celebrate Kupala Night?

Because of disagreements between the Julian and Gregorian calendars,, the date of the celebration of Ivan Kupala has shifted. Ukrainian church, however, used the first one, which will soon change. Instead of the actual day of the summer solstice, it is celebrated two weeks later and falls on July 7. Celebrations begin the evening before.

It is a non-transitory date, i.e the holiday is held on the same day each year. In 2023, it will be a Friday. All celebrations are scheduled for Thursday evening, July 6.

The origin of the holiday

In pagan times, the holiday was simply called Kupala or Ivan Kupal, the name Ivan in honor of John the Baptist was added later by Christians. Although the name sounds similar to the word "to bathe" (in Ukrainian it is "kupatysia"), it still probably comes from the Slavic root "kupa," which means to connect something, in this case people. This root is found in the words "together" or "totality." Thus, on Kupal night the villagers were supposed to gather together, have fun, and celebrate the solstice.

Also the name of the celebration in honor of the power of the sun could have been given by the Slavic mythical character Kupalo. It has been suggested that he was the god of the summer sun, love, marriage and reproduction. Although it is unknown whether such a deity really existed, the first mentions of him date back only to the 17th century. Some historians suggest the reverse: Kupalo may have appeared as a personification of this important holiday.

The Christian church combined it with the celebration of the birth of John the Baptist, which fell about the same period. This made it easier for yesterday's pagans to accept the new traditions. In the end, the ancient, pagan thing did win out, because most of the traditions of the day come from those times.

How to celebrate

The main symbols of the holiday are considered water and fire, two life-giving elements that can also be quite destructive if they get out of hand. All the main festivities are held around the Kupal fire. This fire is lit wherever the holiday is celebrated.

This fire is supposed to be high and symbolize the warmth and power of the sun. And also this fire is attributed the power to cleanse from sin and disease. That is why one of the main elements of the celebrations was jumping over the Kupal fire. This pastime was shrouded in a mass of superstitions. If a girl could not jump over it, she was called a witch and was punished. And if a couple in love jumped over the fire, they had to hold hands. If the lovers would jump without separating hands, their love would be strong, if their hands separated, the couple would soon part.

In general, the theme of love was the key to the day of Kupala, as this holiday was dedicated to fertility in all senses. Thus, unmarried girls kept fortune-telling about their betrothed, casting wreaths of flowers and herbs, decorated with candles, into the water. The way the wreath floated on the wave was supposed to show the girl's fate:

  • If it floats steady and the candle burns well, it's a good marriage;
  • If it swims around in place, or if it's stuck to the shore, the girl will be unmarried for another year;
  • If it drowns, she'll be single forever.

Unmarried men were supposed to catch the wreaths made by the girls out of the water. It was believed that the one the guy pulled out was his bride. That's why couples in love agreed in advance what their wreath should look like, so they could marry on the basis of that omen.

When night fell on earth, the brave ones would go to the woods to look for the fern flower. It was supposed to give whoever found it incredible powers. The wearer would begin to see the future, talk to animals, be able to heal illnesses and find treasure.

Also on Kupal days, medicinal plants were gathered. It was believed that they had a special power and could better cure any disease.


The main taboo of this holiday is to sleep at night. Those who did not participate in general entertainment could be stolen by evil spirits, which appear in large numbers on earth on this day.

In particular, mermaids, spirits of water, are not very friendly to people. They become more active during this holiday. They could take the life of a pregnant woman, so one was forbidden to bathe on that day. Youung lads were told not to talk to pretty girls who came out of the water and turned to them: young man could be seduced by a mermaid.

Of course, on Kupala all kinds of work were also forbidden. One could not work on the land, sew, embroider, repair or build. Everyone was invited to the feast, so labor was taboo.


Here's how they predicted the weather, crops and upcoming events on the holiday:

  • if the Kupala morning was rich in dew, it foretold a good harvest;
  • a sky studded with bright stars was also good for the harvest;
  • the rain on that day promised a dry and hot summer;
  • a person who saw a snake was to beware of trouble.

Earlier OBOZREVATEL wrote about holidays that Ukraine will celebrate in July 2023.

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