Orthodox Christians celebrate Epiphany, or the Baptism of Jesus, every year on 19 January. The story of one of the most ancient religious holidays began when John the Baptist christened Jesus on the banks of the Jordan River.
Russia adopted Christianity in 988. And Russians have been celebrating this day for the 1030 years since then. A lot of Epiphany traditions have developed over time. Let’s find out about some of them.
Bathing in an ice hole
The word “baptise” comes from the Greek and means “to plunge into water”. In Russia, taking an icy plunge has been a tradition since the 10th century. The custom was borrowed from Scythian gentiles who would immerse their children in cold water to strengthen their health.
While people believe that bathing in an ice hole is of benefit for one’s physical health, the true meaning of the holiday is not the strengthening of one’s health but spiritual cleansing through water, which becomes “holy” on the day of the feast and for one week after that. So you can take part in this tradition from 19 through 25 January.
In the Urals, the weather at this time of year is extremely harsh. It even has its own name: Epiphany frost. The air temperature varies from -15 to -30 degrees, with water temperatures that range from +2 to +4 degrees. Experienced swimmers say that the feeling one gets from swimming in an ice hole is similar to skydiving. The body responds to the stress by releasing endorphins, also known as the “pleasure hormone”. This makes the stories sound realistic.
If you want to join the winter swimmers, please remember some basic rules to protect your body and get the maximum pleasure.
- Choose the right clothes without buttons and laces.
- Eat well two hours before swimming, as your body will burn a lot of calories after your plunge to heat up again.
- Choose the proper ice hole with no sharp edges and with a ladder.
- Just plunge three times according to the tradition. Don’t stay in the water for more than 10 seconds.
- Immediately after getting out, wipe off with a dry towel and go to the heating station.
Russian sauna before
Some Russians like to take a traditional Russian bath before going into the ice water.
A fresh birch broom, pine and resin aroma, and the high temperature and humidity have a great impact on the body, removing all toxins. After the bath, the temperature perception changes and diving into an ice hole results in an especially pleasant feeling.
If you are lucky enough to “kill two birds with one stone”, you could plan a visit of an ice hole and a Russian sauna. Just remember that your body needs to adjust to the sudden temperature changes.
Where can I take the plunge?
If you want to join the tradition and experience what it’s like to be a walrus in winter, we recommend choosing a place to swim in advance. Find one with safety precautions, heating options and medical workers standing by to provide assistance if needed.
The most popular places for ice swimming are the following:
- Maliy Istok, Reactive street 60a. Church of the Apostles Peter and Paul
- Ekaterinburg Fire Department № 4, Proezhaya street, 110
- Ekaterinburg, Zeleny Bor village, the river Shilovka
- Ekaterinburg, Dvinskaya street, 24a, Church of St. Vladimir