Summer Celebration – St. Ivan’s Night

In Hungary we have a mystical summer tradition, which name is Saint Ivan midnight’s fire jumping on 24th of June. A celebration of light, life, love, fertility. Before i go into more detail, let’s talk about lighting fires, because this is a significant point of the event. This festival had great significance in the pagan world, with the mid-summer bonfire symbolising purification and rebirth. Fires built at the end of the village or on the edge of the forest are believed to have special powers: they protect against witches, insects and diseases, and protect the crops from hail. It was customary to burn herbs, plants and incense to ward off evil. Around the fire, young people sing fertility and love songs, stand around the fire, dance around it. They scatter the glowing embers and the cooled ashes on the ground to protect the crops.

The fire jumping is believed to bring good luck. Three times you have to jump, if you want to be saved from your sins through the intercession of St. John. Boys and girls can jump alone or in pairs to stay together.

The girl is carried through the fire by the lad, so that they may be purified and have many children when they start a family. In the old days, all the young people in the village used to sing together in the pairing chants during the fire-pulling. This went on for a long time. Hence the saying: as long as the song of St. Ivan.

After lighting the fires, the Paloc girls went with the men to the hemp field, where they lay down in the hemp one by one. It was believed that whichever one of them got the hemp to stand up would get married within a year.

The bad things written on a piece of paper were also banished by the holiday. They wrote things they wanted to get rid of, like poverty or bad thoughts. Thrown into the fire, all that became a thing of the past. Also positive thoughts and life goals were held over the flames to become reality.

Apples baked in the fire on St. Ivan’s Day, which ripen at this time of year, were believed to have a disease-preventing effect.

St. Ivan’s grass, St. Ivan’s broom, carob, milkweed were also called the honey-scented milkweed, which blooms on the yellow solstice. This plant brings long, happy life and wealth to man. Wreaths of pure milkweed or other flowers, sometimes mixed with garlic, were woven on 24 June. The Serbs in Hungary hung these wreaths on the gates of their houses, symbolising togetherness and protecting the people and their possessions from harm all year round. Wreaths were considered sacred, so if they withered, they could not be thrown away, only burned.

Eszter Stumpf

Photo above: 1. Fire jump, source:

2. Fire jump in the Middle Ages, source: