|Sobótka: The Magic of St. John’s Eve |
| The celebration is as old as the human civilization itself, and it turns out that different cultures in the northern hemisphere celebrate it not all that differently. Of course, as most celebrations these days, this one also has its origins in ancient pagan rituals. Then, when Europe adopted Christianity, in most places the occasion became known as “Feast of St. John the Baptist”. |
There are many names for this celebration. It’s either noc świętojańska or sobótki (in plural) or sobótka (yes, singular, take your pick). Known also as Kupałnocka, Kupala or noc Kupały in Central and Eastern Poland, or simply “wianki” in Krakow . New name, new image, yet the way it’s been celebrated throughout the centuries hasn’t really changed all that much.
This Polish midsummer celebrations started as a pagan ritual celebrating the Sun as a source of light and warmth on the longest day of the year, usually June 23. Over the centuries the reason has changed but it is continues to be a time to people to gather and enjoy the season with family and friends.
This night of merrymaking was made famous by Shakespeare in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The Polish customs are equally as mischievous. It was ancient tradition is to burn bonfires, bathe in open waters at sunset, and sing and dance until midnight.
Integral to this celebration is Rzucanie Wianków, the rite of the throwing of wreaths. Young maidens are to dress in white and wear wreaths of yellow and white wild flowers upon their heads. In Slavic tradition the wianek is a symbol of the unmarried state—maidenhood. After dark, they would add messages and candles to the wreath and set them afloat on the rivers. The hope was that a fitting mate would find the wreath when fishing and fall in love with them.
Other events of the evening involve bonfires. Tradition says that fire protected one against misfortune and that a very good harvest could be ensured by filling the fields with smoke. Also, Kupala, the Slavic goddess of sex, trees, herbs, and flowers, hosted her celebration upon the Summer solstice. In tribute, maidens would throw in special herb bouquets in hopes that it would protect them from evil and bring them a healthy love life. To demonstrate their agility, the young men would leap the fires.
At midnight the unmarried would run into forest in search of the elusive fern flower. It was said that the ferns blooms only for a brief moment on this mystical night and if you found the flower of fern, your life wishes would be fulfilled. A lucky man returning with the flower would wear the flowered wreath of his engaged on his head.
Today, after numerous incidents, the more hazardous rites of this celebration have been abandoned by most. The celebration in Krakow is known as Wianki includes music, dancing, boat parades and bonfires. But the highlight remains the candle-lit wreaths floating on the Vistula River as the grand fireworks display begins.
Join us as we revel in the good weather with good food, friends and music at Sobotka: Polish Happy Hour at the Gardens on Thursday, June 14 from 5:30- 10 PM on the patio of the Davis Center at Fellows Riverside Gardens. At this the most popular PHH all year, we will add to the imported beer, wine and zubrowka vodka cocktails, the live music and sing-a-long with the fun, zany, and truly unique Chardon Polka Band.