One of the most important traditional holidays in Belarus is the pagan, albeit increasingly Christian, summer solstice holiday of Kupalle. The holiday originated as a celebration of fertility in honor a female God named Kupala, which means “She Who Bathes.” It has also more recently become a Christian celebration of both the birthday of John the Baptist and of Saint Ivan Kupala. Whatever one’s religious leaning, Belarusians who celebrate Kupalle — increasingly fewer as Belarus urbanizes — do so by flocking to forests, wearing flower garlands, going to saunas or to cold water springs to “bathe,” dancing in karagods (circles around fires) and even jumping over fires. Traditionally, Belarusians believed that evil spirits took advantage of the night of Kupalle to plan terrible things for villages over the next year. Families “protected” their houses with sharp nettles and hung garlands of herbs and birch-tree branches on their cows’ horns. Young people even stayed up all night to guard their families from the spirits, and greeted the sunrise with great joy. (Today, village youth take advantage of staying up all night for Kupelle by playing pranks, such as switching their neighbors’ gates and hoisting horse carts to the top of houses.)
In class we celebrate Kupalle in a way that would make Belorussian villagers proud.
Kupalle celebrations in all their glory on YouTube | More on Kupalle in the Belarusian Holidays page | More Belarusian pagan history: sacred stones