MOSCOW (AP) — Across Russia, the devout and the daring are observing the Orthodox Christian feast day of Epiphany by immersing themselves in frigid water through holes cut through the ice of lakes and rivers.
Epiphany celebrates the revelation of Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God through his baptism in the River Jordan.
Russian believers imitate the baptism by entering the water and ducking themselves three times either on the evening before Epiphany or on that Jan. 19 feast day. Many make the sign of the cross, some others hold their noses.
Some of the people who do it scurry out quickly and wrap themselves in large towels. But many seem unfazed by it all and extol the practice as strengthening both the soul and the body.
The ritual is watched by priests who have blessed the water. Emergency workers are also on hand in case anyone succumbs to the heart-racing shock of the icy immersion.
There’s usually a contingent of warmly dressed onlookers, too, maybe wondering if they’ll have the boldness to try it next year.
Some Orthodox pilgrims get to dunk themselves in the actual River Jordan, which is a whole lot warmer.