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When the White Night Comes - Jump Into the Fire!

Or how the Midsummer Night is celebrated in Moscow, St-Pete and Tallinn

St. John Baptist’s Day or Ivan Kupala in Russian is the ancient pagan’s tradition of celebrating the shortest night in the year or the midsummer. During the Midsummer Day the sun is staying at its highest point for a while, giving the magical power to all nature and to humans. It is told that during the shortest night all the evil and good forces are activated, that’s why it is better and more safe not sleep that night. In the Northern part of the Earth the sun is staying above the horizon for the longest time. The 21st and he 22nd of June are the longest days during the year and the night to the 22nd is the shortest one.

In Russia the ancient pagan tradition of celebrating the shortest night has mostly fallen into the past. Many of those who follow the tradition of celebrating Ivan Kupala night do it from the 6th to the 7th of July. As you may probably know, all religious holidays, such as Christmas, are also celebrated according to the old calendar, which differs from the common one for 13 days. Among some typical traditions of celebrating this night in Russia are – swimming naked, jumping through the fire, the bravest ones go into the forest to search for the flower of fern, which can blossom only during this night. If you find the one, you will possess all the earth treasures and will see the future. The lonely unhappy young girls have a chance to bewitch the beloved: girl has to run naked around the rye field three times. In this case her beloved one will see her in his dreams, and in the morning he will wake up with the love feeling to this girl. So, if one night you will see naked women running around the field don’t be afraid, probably you are the lucky one, the beloved one. Also, the witches gather on this night to celebrate their holiday. They do the evil things to the people and fly on their brooms.

In Saint-Pete the length of this day is up to 18 hours and 53 minutes, and the astronomical twilight (or the White night) lasts for 5 hours 7 minutes. The June in Saint-Pete is usually called the White nights, and this period lasts till the 12-15th of July. It is very popular among Russians to visit the Northern capital during those nights without darkness. You have to book the train ticket beforehand, as there are plenty of people from Moscow visiting Saint-Pete during the whole month just to see the white skies and the beauty of the bridges draw against the background of the skies without darkness. This year there are several fests – classical music festival “The stars of the white nights” dedicated to Dmitry Shostakovich and orienteering fest “White Nights”.

In Moscow most of the people usually don’t celebrate this holiday. Very few pay attention to it. In the cultural center DOM (HOME) it is a good tradition to celebrate Ivan Kupala. The cultural program includes the fire-jumping, live music of the famous Falk Ensembles from Russia, Finland (Cleaning Women), Hungary, etc. People in DOM usually drink much honey brew (Medovukha) and home brew (Samogon) and when the general hilarity comes to its pitch, the bus takes all the participants to the secret place in the forest, where the celebration continues, although only a few ones are able to go to the forest, as all people are dead drunk.

In Tallinn Jaani Paev is celebrated widely, it is the state holiday, people officially don’t work to be able to celebrate special day in the year. Along the sea you can see many fire places, people are cooking barbecues, drink, dance, jump through the fire, swim, go to the Sauna. The city is absolutely empty during this day. This tradition is still alive in Estonia, much more alive then in modern Russia.

Julkaistu 20.7.2006

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