Thursday, May 20, 2010

The History of the Ukrainian Wreath

The Ukrainian wreath (Ukrainian: вінок, vinok) is a headdress made from leaves, flowers, and branches worn by girls and young unmarried women. The wreath may be part of a tradition dating back to the old East Slavic customs that predate the Christianization of Rus. The flower wreath remains a part of the Ukrainian national costume, and is worn on festive occasions and on holy days.

On the day of Ivana Kupala, young women placed their wreaths in the water with a lit-up candle, foretelling their romantic future by how the wreath flowed down the river or lake. From the wreath's direction, the girl could tell whom she would marry: if the wreath stayed in one spot and did not float down the water, she would not marry; if it went under, she would die; if the candle went out, misfortune would follow. The young men would dive into the water, trying to retrieve the vinok of the girl each loved. One of the ritual Kupala songs says, "Who will catch the wreath will catch the girl, who will get the wreath will become mine." It dates back to pre-Christian times when it was thought that the headdress would protect girls from evil spirits. The ceremonial, religious value diminished, and was later replaced as a national character of girlhood: to lose a wreath in folk songs and traditions means for a maiden to transition into womanhood.

In his book The Golden Bough, mythology scholar James George Frazer first claimed that Ivan Kupala Day (John the Baptist Day), celebrated in Ukraine and Russia shortly after the summer solstice, and closely associated with the wreath in Ukraine, was in fact originally a pagan fertility rite.

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