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The History of The

 

Why is Billy standing in a forest at night, drawing a white circle  around a fern and  hoping it will bloom?
It all goes back to this Ukrainian custom. Read on!

 

The Kupalo Festival originated in Ukraine.  It is celebrated in both the United States and Ukraine today on June 24. The word Kupalo originates from the name of the god of summer and fertility. This god sleeps under a tree all winter and then awakens in the spring.  Many of the customs of this festival link to encouraging fertility in both humans and the natural world.

Young women gather flowers to make a wreath that is tossed into a nearby river. Wherever the wreath touches the shore, this location determines what family the young female will marry into. (To me, it's best to locate your house where the water currents flow if you have a lot of sons!)  

Another custom for the girls is for them to make an effigy of Marena, the goddess of cold, death and winter.  After singing special songs, they burn or drown this effigy to reduce the goddess's power over the coming winter. The Ukrainian winters are usually very harsh. 

What do the young men do?  They go into the forest on Kupalo and look for a type of fern that blooms (according to the legend) only on the night of Midsummer Day. The men take along a special cloth, white powder and a knife.  If they find this special fern and are strong enough to fight off the enticements of those wood nymphs, then they draw a circle with the white powder and sit down in the middle to wait for the fern to bloom. When it does, the cut off the blossom with the knife and wrap the flower in the special cloth.  They must NEVER tell anyone that they have found the fern, or they will lose the luck and power it is believed to symbolize. Thus, this is how they explain why some people just seem to have more luck and talent than others. 

The Kupalo Festival goes back to pagan times when people believed that supernatural forces governed the seasons.  So, if certain annual rituals were not performed properly, the weather might not warm up in time to yield a good harvest.  The festival is still observed in parts of the Ukraine as well as in Ukrainian communities in the United States.

The symbol of the Kupalo Festival is a young sapling tree decorated with flowers, seeds and fruit.  This tree represents Kupalo himself, who awakens in the spring and shakes the tree he's been sleeping under. This shaking will make seeds fall and symbolizes fertilizing the earth again.  During the festival the young men and women dance around the tree and sing special songs to please this image of the fertility god.

Return to our June Holidays Page for more celebrations.

Source of Information:
"Holidays, Symbols & Customs  3rd Edition"
By Sue Ellen Thompson
Omnigraphics, Inc. 2003

 

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