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CRAZY Dances on Kupalle: how Belarus keeps ancient tradition alive

There’s one night a year when past becomes more alive than ever. On this night centuries-old beliefs about supernatural powers are remembered, and people reunite with nature, looking for luck and love. To be part of it, there’s no need to travel to a faraway land — it all happens in the heart of Europe.

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In July, when summer is in full swing, Belarusians celebrate Kupala Night (or Kupalle), one of the oldest folk holidays dedicated to the sun and nature. The night is believed to have magical power and is marked with dances, games in the woods  and jumps over bonfire.

Supposedly, in ancient times Kupalle was celebrated in the night from July 6 to July 7 in the New Style calendar or on 23-24 June in Old Style calendar. So at present celebrations are often held both in the end of June and in the beginning of July.

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Rites and rituals of Kupalle date back to pagan times. In old times Belarusians used this night to thank and honor natural powers they worshipped, like the Fire, the Water and the Earth. Today, these festivities are a mix of ancient traditions and rituals, theatrical concerts and fun games.

strochicy_kupale_25062016_tutby_brush_phsl_img_-4073 Like in old days, people gather on the banks of rivers and lakes to sing songs, do round dances and jump over the flames of bonfires in a ritual test of bravery and faith. Girls make wreaths of flowers and float them on the water to gain foresight into their future love relationships.

Kupalle celebrations are also organized by historical clubs and museums across the country.

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Kupala Night is associated with numerous legends and myths. For example, ancestors believed that on Kupalle rivers start glowing and mermaids can be seen bathing in the water, witches and ghosts roam the earth trying to do harm to people, and plants and animals start speaking.

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Today no one is afraid of mermaids — though, probably, you can spot them, if you look for them — but one of the most beautiful rites, the search for Paparats kvetka (Belarusian: a fern flower), is still observed.

According to an ancient belief, the eve of Kupala night is the only time of the year when ferns bloom. Whoever finds a fern flower, will be followed by prosperity, luck and power.  Therefore, on that night, people would roam through the forests in search of the elusive plant.

So here’s our good advice: if you happen to visit Belarus in summer, don’t miss Kupalle. Who knows, if you’ll be lucky enough to find Paparats kvetka?