Any plans to jump into the icy cold waters with temperatures below -30C? I am not kidding.
In Russia and Eastern Europe, orthodox worshippers have been braving icy waters for Epiphany- one of the most important holidays in the Orthodox Christian calendar. Known as “The Epiphany Bath” is celebrated on January 19 marking the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River. It is believed to be the day when the infant Jesus was visited by the Three Wise Men, thus revealing Himself to humankind. The tradition of immersion in the baptismal ice hole – Jordan – symbolizes the baptism.
In the Russian Orthodox tradition, a cross-shaped hole is cut into the ice and the waters are blessed by the priest and people bathe in this freezing water. Despite the severe temperatures (below zero sometimes), men, women and children brave an icy dip into these cross-shaped pools hoping to wash away their sins. As the waters are blessed by the priest during Epiphany (or the eve before), it is believed to be holy, pure and imbued with special powers. The participants may dip themselves three times in the water, honouring the Holy Trinity to symbolically wash away their sins from the past year and to experience a sense of spiritual rebirth. The water is then, distributed to attendees who may store it to use in times of illness, to bless themselves, family members, and their homes, or to drink. This rite is believed to bring good health to worshippers as well.
While the practice is not officially endorsed by the Orthodox Church, it became a popular folk culture after the end of the Soviet Union.
Authorities set up 4,000 specially prepared bathing sites for almost two million believers all over Russia, including parts of Siberia (Serbian Orthodox worshippers jump into the cold water of the Sava River in Belgrade) where January temperatures dip below -30C. Orthodox priests are available to bless the water, and rescuers are on hand to monitor the safety of the swimmers in the ice-cold water.
While according to the Eastern Christianity, the feast of Epiphany is celebrated on Jan 18th- the eve of Russian Orthodox Epiphany (the church follows the Julian calendar), there are some countries which celebrate it on January 6 as well.
Things to Remember for your Icy Plunge next year:
- Practice with a cold shower
Take several contrast showers before Epiphany as it can help prepare your body for the shock of the cold. You can start by standing under warm water for around five minutes and then switch to cold water for one minute. Continue to alternate between hot and cold, gradually increasing the time spent under cold water.
2. Avoid alcohol
Though it may seem tempting to take hard drinks before Epiphany to stay warm, doctors’ have advised against alcohol consumption pre-bathing. Alcohol causes the blood to flow away from your core, resulting in heat moving from your vital organs to your skin. Drink warm tea instead.
3. Eat a proper meal
Indulge in a meal high in fats around two hours before hitting the ice. Your body will spend most of its energy on staying warm and needs a solid reserve of calories.
Once you’re outside — and especially once you’re begun removing layers —it’s a good idea to do a few exercises to warm up your body and increase blood flow. Do 10-15 squats and jumping jacks before taking the plunge.
5. Don’t forget your slippers
Rubber slippers are an essential part of the Epiphany experience. Large, warm slippers will keep your feet warm and will be easy to don after bathing (as compared shoes that have laces or are complicated). Other essential items include a large towel, a warm change of clothes (seasoned bathers recommend clothes without buttons for speedy dressing) and a hat.
Let us know about your Epiphany experiences in the comments below! Goodluck.