LOVE IN PAGAN/CHRISTIAN MOSCOW
Ivan Kupalo / St. John the Baptist’s Day – July 6th, a pagan holiday where many bonfires are lit all around the city of Moscow. Young couples gather to jump over these bonfires as a sign of their love and commitment to each other. This feast was — and is — celebrated ON July 7 and it marks the birth of John the Baptist who, in the Ukrainian tradition, is called Ivan. The word “Kupalo” (or “Kupaylo”) got attached because originally, on that day, a pagan feast of bathing had been celebrated, and to bathe in Ukrainian is kupaty. It is not the only case when a pagan feast got merged with a Christian one.
“Girls plaited wreaths of grasses and wild flowers and threw them on the water in the rivers and streamlets, with lit candles attached to the wreaths. The girls then watched the wreaths — if the wreath that you made and launched got carried by the current back to the same shore and the candle kept safely burning, it meant that you had a good chance of getting married to a young man from your own village. If the wreath got carried away and far, it foretold a chance of getting married too, but your fiance would come from a faraway place. If, God forbid, the candle got blown off by the wind, or the wreath overturned, it portended all kinds of personal misfortunes, local or even general disasters.
Land tillers would take some food to the fields and have their repast there; they also would reap a symbolic sheaf, asking for God’s blessing.
The pagan feast of Kupalo was of an orgiastic nature and indiscriminate and random sex was part of the feast. Naturally, this part was eliminated by Christianity, but characteristically, only single young people were allowed to take part in the festivities which retained a vigorous and active character. The young married couples were allowed only to bring the food cooked for the feast and give it out to the celebrants, and then retire.”
I got in the swing of things (minus the random sex and jumping over fire).