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Lesson Transcript

Hello, and welcome to the Culture Class- Holidays in Russia Series at RussianPod101.com. In this series, we’re exploring the traditions behind Russian holidays and observances. I’m Jenny, and you're listening to Season 1 Lesson 14 - Ivan Kupala Day.
One of the most ancient and most important Slavic holidays in Russia is the holiday of Ivan Kupala, celebrated every year on the evening of July 6. In fact, the earliest known historical references to this holiday dates all the way back to the 12th century.
But, before we go into more detail, I’ve got a question for you -
Which plant do you think is the symbol for the holiday of Ivan Kupala?
If you don't already know, you’ll find out a bit later, so keep listening.
In ancient times, the holiday of Ivan Kupala, in Russian, Иван Купала, (Ivan Kupala) was observed on the day of the summer solstice, that is, the holiday that falls during the period of June 20-22 according to the old calendar. Following the adoption of Christianity, however, the celebration was linked to the birthday of John the Baptist which was on June 24 using the old-style calendar, or on July 7 using the new-style calendar. However, nobody knows for certain where the holiday’s name comes from. Some people connect it to the Pagan god Kupala, and others to the Slavic version of St. John the Baptist’s name.
The symbols of the holiday of Ivan Kupala are fire, which in Russian is огонь (agon'), water, which in Russian is вода (vada), and grass, which in Russian is трава (trava). This is why a lot of traditions and beliefs are linked specifically to these symbols. For example, one of the main rites of the holiday is jumping over a bonfire made on the night of Ivan Kupala, an activitiy which is said to have curative powers. In the old times, sick people’s clothes were burned in this bonfire so that they would recover faster. An essential condition to the creation of this fire was that it only be lit by rubbing dry sticks together.
On Ivan Kupala day, maidens wove field flowers together to make wreaths and in the evening set them to float on the surface of a lake or a river, and observed how the wreath floated on the water. If the wreath stuck to the shore, it was believed that the owner would not get married that year; if it sunk, this was an altogether bad omen. However, it was also believed that the further the wreath floated from the shore and the longer it stayed afloat, the happier the maiden girl’s fate would be.
In ancient times, people believed that on the eve of Ivan Kupala, the trees and plants came to life, talked to each other, and could even move around the forest.
So, coming back to our quiz, which plant do you think is the symbol of the holiday of Ivan Kupala?
The symbol of the holiday of Ivan Kupala is the fern, which in Russian is папоротник (paparatnik). Since ancient times, there has been a legend about the fern flower that blooms only once a year, on the eve of Ivan Kupala. It was believed that the flower would bless the person who found it with many special abilities, such as the ability to understand the language of birds and animals, see into the future, become invisible, and easily find buried treasure.
So listeners, how did you like this lesson? Did you learn something new?
What folk holidays are there in your country?
Leave a comment at RussianPod101.com, and I’ll see you in the next lesson!