Across Europe, from Ireland and Portugal in the west to Estonia in the east and Greece in the south, people have celebrated midsummer with bonfires since ancient times. Ukrainians are especially passionate about keeping the midsummer traditions alive.

St John's Eve

In Ukraine, the midsummer festival is called Ivana Kupala. The old pagan tradition became linked to the birthday of St John the Baptist: Ivan = John. In Eastern Orthodox church calendars, Kupala moved from Midsummer's Eve, 23 June, to early July. We plan to move Brighton's Kupala back from July to midsummer in 2025, bringing it into the larger European family of midsummer celebrations.

photo: Nepran Vyacheslav, in Ukraine / Wikimedia

Modern Kupala

Ukrainians reinvented Kupala as they developed their modern identity, after gaining independence in 1991. 'Following tradition, we would celebrate by the fire and jump over it,' recalls Lesia Kyrylenko. 'We also had a tradition of setting car tyres on fire, like a symbol of the Sun.' It was a modern take on a European custom that was first recorded 1700 years before, in southwestern France, and was practiced in England up until the 19th century.                                                                              

Kupala now

'I moved from Ukraine to Brighton twelve years ago, and my son was born here. Since last year, we celebrate Ivana Kupala in Preston Park. On that wonderful day, Preston Park will become Ukrainian. So I'm really delighted that my son will be able to sing Ivana Kupala songs, learn about Ivana Kupala traditions, enjoy Ukrainian food, and be with Ukrainians during this difficult moment.'  
                                                                         Olya Golichenko (click photo for video)