Valentine’s Day (“Walentynki” in Polish) is upon us, it originates as a Western Christian tradition of honouring one of the saints – St. Valentinus, hence the name: Valentine’s Day, Saint Valentine’s Day or Feast of Saint Valentine. Although the Valentine’s are widely observed all over the globe it is not a public holiday.
But did you know that Poland had their own “Valentine’s Day” since the medieval period? It takes place around 23 – 24 June and it is called Noc Świętojańska (Saint John’s eve), Sobótka or Noc Kupały (Kupała’s night). It’s not a coincidence that the Summer Solstice happens almost at the same time (21 – 22 June) when, according to the Slavic tradition, people were meant to find their better halves. It is also celebration of water and fire that have cleansing properties.
Traditional Sobótka ceremonies took part in the nighttime and included bonfires, burning herbs, dance around the fire (to grant protection from diseases and demons), fortune telling, jumping over the fire with figure of Kupała (pagan god of love). It is as well the time when single girls would make flower wreaths and throw them into the stream for boys to catch in order to decide who they would be going out with. Young couples would also look for fern flower in the woods that was said to bring good luck and treasure hidden under the ground.
As the dates of Summer Solstice and Sobótka are so close together, in nowaday Poland, those two holidays are celebrated together with music events and lantern festivals across the country.