Almost 94,000 people across Russia bathed in the ice-cold rivers and ponds over the night of January 18-19, braving the freezing winter temperatures to celebrate the Orthodox Christian holiday of Epiphany, the baptism of Jesus.
Bathers in Yakutia, in Russia’s Far East, had to perform the traditional triple plunge in exceptionally chilly temperatures of – 45 C (-49 F). The waters of the Lena River they submerged into were only a couple of degrees above freezing.
The celebrating crowd was, however, far from complaining.
"No, I am not worried at all!” one of the Yakutian bathers told Ruptly news agency. “This is the fifth year I’m bathing on Epiphany. The feeling is just great, rejuvenating, I would say, it is like being born again. I have never got ill after swimming, everything is perfect."
Russia’s Emergency Situations Ministry has been carefully monitoring Epiphany bathing, however. Around 35,000 of its personnel were supervising the icy dips across the country, Itar-Tass reported.
Moscow, in comparison to Yakutia, enjoyed a much milder -20C frost, and around 90,000 took a dip, Interfax reported police as saying.
Watch video of RT correspondent Margaret Howell testing her frost resistance by taking part in Moscow’s Epiphany bathing
The ritual of the triple plunge underwater after receiving a priest’s blessing simulates the baptizing of Jesus Christ. Russians take freezing baths not only out of religious motives. The practice is believed by many to be good for health and is extensively promoted by the country’s large ice-swimming community, the members of which are commonly called “morzhi” (walruses).