IIvan Kupala is an ancient pagan ritual, which used to be known as just Kupala – meaning to bathe. Ivan – meaning John, as in John the Baptist – was added after Christianity came to the region and assimilated the festivities.
The ritual was originally held on the summer solstice between June 20 and 22, but was moved to the birthday of St John the Baptist, which was on June 23 by the old Julian calendar.
The new Gregorian calendar moved the date to July 6, so the link with the solstice was lost.
Despite its associations with Christianity, the festival still draws heavily on mysticism and folk-law.
It is believed that witches also take a holiday on this day and come to do harm to people, and that werewolves and mermaids also emerge to roam around and attack the souls of the wicked.
The day-long ritual is therefore designed around purity, supposedly cleansing the body and soul and providing protection, fertility and luck to those who take part.
The main focus is fire-jumping, with the flames supposedly cleansing the souls of those who pass over it.
Couples who can complete the jump holding hands will have a strong relationship, while friends may also jump together to prove their loyalty to one-another.
Unmarried women also wear garlands of flowers and herbs in their hair during the day, and at night float the wreaths out on to a lake with a candle. The woman whose flowers float the longest will be lucky in love, while the longest burning candle denotes long life.
It is also said that, on this one night, ferns are able to produce flowers, with whoever sights one of the blooms able to make a wish come true.
Villagers often take off into the woods in search of the blossoms, with unmarried women allowed to go first with single men following, in the hope that relationships might also blossom in the hunt.