Every year in July, when summer is in full swing, the inhabitants of the Podlaskie region spend at least two Saturdays celebrating Kupala Night or Ivan Kupala Day (known in other countries as Midsummer).
This one-day customary event is linked with the summer solstice celebrations. It’s the festival of fire and water, sun and moon, abundance and fertility, happiness and joy.
Kupala Night is a pagan holiday celebrated in the Christian region. In the past it was a pagan rite which was later accepted into the Orthodox Christian calendar. Kupala derives its name from the Slavic word which means bathing. The celebrations are held on the banks of rivers, always near water. They start in the evening and end late at night. The holiday is dedicated to water which was believed to purify soul and body and render beauty, love, youth, health and luck.
The people of Belarusian and Ukrainian descent living in the region organise such events on Saturdays in July to bring people together, keep the culture alive and popularise their customs. Tourists can witness extraordinary rituals in Białowieza (the Belarusian celebrations), in Dubicze Cerkiewne (the Ukrainian ones), go to Narewka or other places in south-eastern Podlasie.
The locals, tourists and happy-feelings seekers go to the festival to listen to folk songs and watch bands coming from Belarus, Ukraine or Poland playing traditional folk music on stage. What’s more, there are lots of stalls with traditional food, pottery, handicraft, clothing etc. where everyone can buy and eat something or drink beer outside with their friends and simply enjoy quality time together.
On that night some young women put on traditional embroidered clothes and floral wreaths as a part of local folklore. Those wreaths are made of mugwort, rue, camomile, hypericum and other flowering plants. At midnight the main attraction of the holiday is floating wreaths of flowers (often with a lit candle) on the water. Young men jump into the water and try to capture the wreaths made by unmarried girls. When they catch it, they can hope to find a new love and for a girl it’s a sign that soon she can expect to get married.
Another tradition associated with Kupala Night is looking for a fern flower which blooms once a year on that magical night. Going to the forest and finding this flower gives its owner supernatural powers to see the future, talk with animals and birds and find a hidden treasure. As a matter fact, it’s not so simple to find the flower (it can be an adventure), but this mysterious ritual makes the night even more enchanting.
It was commonly known that taking part in Kupala celebrations could bring luck and prosperity all year round. So when travelling to Podlasie, you can’t miss Kupala Night because it’s an important part of cultural life in that part of Poland and a great opportunity to experience something incredible and amazing.
by Justyna Wasyluk