Ivan Kupala Day (John the Baptist Day) is celebrated in Russia and Ukraine on 7 July in the Gregorian or New Style calendar, which is currently 24 June in the Julian or Old Style calendar still used by many of the Orthodox Churches. It is opposed to the winter solstice holiday, or Korochun.
Some early mythology scholars, such as Sir James Frazer, have claimed that the holiday was originally a pagan fertility rite later accepted into the Orthodox Christian calendar. There are analogues for celebrating John near the solstice elsewhere, including St. John Day in Western Europe.
According to Vasmer, the name of this holiday combines the words "Ivan", the Slavic name of John (the Baptist), and "Kupala", a word derived from the Slavic word for bathing, as it was the first day of the year when the church sanctioned bathing and swimming in rivers and ponds, though the term is also consistent with John's baptizing people through full immersion in the water.
Neo-pagans have developed an interest in this holiday, which is known as one of the most expressive East Slavic folk and pagan holidays. For the neo-pagans, many rites of this holiday are connected with water, fertility and self-purification. The girls, for example, would float their flower garlands on the water of rivers and tell their fortunes from their movement. Youths and girls would jump over the flames of bonfires.
There is an ancient belief that the Eve of Ivan Kupala is the only time of the year when the ferns are blooming. Whoever finds a fern flower would become rich and lucky. Hence, on that night village folk would roam through the forests in search of magical herbs.
In Gogol's story The Eve of Ivan Kupala a young man finds the fabulous fern-flower but is cursed by it. The Gogol's witches' sabbath on the Eve of Ivan Kupala inspired Modest Mussorgsky to compose his Night on Bald Mountain.
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