ZVERINO, Bulgaria – Bulgarian bachelors kitted out in traditional garb threw themselves into the chilly waters of the Iskar River on Saturday in a race to become the first man to retrieve a cross, as part of celebrations marking Epiphany.
Some 100 people participated in the festivities in the mountainous village of Zverino, about 100 kilometers north of the capital Sofia, to commemorate the baptism of Jesus Christ.
Similar scenes played out in other parts of Bulgaria, as they have for centuries among Orthodox Christians who live in the Balkan country.
For Catholics, Epiphany marks the visit made to Jesus by the Three Kings, while Orthodox Christians observe Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan.
Prior to taking their chilly dip in the river, the group first marched to the beat of drums towards a church for a liturgy.
The participants then dashed into the river in an effort to retrieve a cross thrown by a priest from a bridge, with the man who managed to grab the crucifix first receiving a blessing.
But the event was not complete without a great deal of dancing in the river to centuries-old songs.
Contrary to previous years, temperatures in the eastern European nation were hovering above 0 degrees Celsius (32 degrees Fahrenheit) and there was no snow, making the experience less grueling than on other occasions.
The event has enjoyed increasing fame in recent years, and more tourists have been showing up.
Spectators do not get off lightly, however, as it is also traditional for the swimmers to throw the now-sacred river water at them.