On January 19 the Orthodox celebrated Epiphany, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River during which all three Persons of the Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously to humanity: God the Father by speaking through the clouds, God the Son being baptized in the river, and God the Holy Spirit in the shape of a dove descending from heaven.
On this day, many believers go to church to listen to the service and to bless waters. Other people follow the ancient tradition to bathe in the freezing water under open sky. Participants in the ritual may dip themselves three times under the water, honoring the Holy Trinity, to symbolically wash away their sins from the past year, and to experience a sense of spiritual rebirth.

Every year the Church opens special fonts for all comers, but traditionally the worshipers go to a nearby lake or river.

In this respect, ForUm decided to ask specialists about the rules to follow in order not to turn the tradition into a suicide mission.

Personal experience

Oleksandr, a bear with a 3-year experience tells that he took his first winter bath when the temperature was 19 degrees below zero. Since then, he dips himself three times under the water on every Epiphany.

"I cannot explain you the feeling, you just have to try it yourself. Since my first bath, I've never been sick. Believe me, those who tried once will never quit. I recommend everyone to try," Oleksandr says.

Do no harm

Other 'bears' share similar stories, but according to doctors, newcomers should not rush. Winter bathing is a specific procedure and no everyone can take it.

"It depends on the cardiovascular system of a person. I know that among 'bears' there are many people who used to suffer hypertension. If this disease is in the first stage, winter swimming is not dangerous, but if a person suffers dyspnea or often has pinching pain in the chest, winter diving is not recommended in order not to aggravate ischemic heart disease," chief doctor of the Kyiv city Health Center Otto Stoika says.

According to him, people with acute diseases, running temperature, grave chronic kidney disease, problems with bronchopulmonary system or grave form of diabetes should abstain from similar water procedures. Even if you believe that you are sound as a bell, it is recommended to consult a doctor before diving.

The winter swimming must be well planned. The organism must be prepared for affusion. For this, it is recommended to start gradually, better in summer.

"First, wash your face with cold water. Then try with feet, then legs, then the back. Learn to take contrast shower. When your body is prepared for cold swimming, you can try bathing in freezing waters," Stoika recommends.   

Doctors do not recommend children to practice bathing in the freezing water. "Thermal conductivity of child's body is higher, thus children lose heat faster. Gradual and systemic cold training is even more important for them," Otto Stoika adds.

Dry law

Both doctors and experienced 'bears' agree that drinking alcohol before bathing in cold water is a bad idea. Alcohol makes blood vessels dilated, while cold water constricts them. "A person affected by alcohol does not feel cold adequately, thus, as a result, may overcool or get local freeze burns," the doctor explains.  

Rules to enjoy your bath

For newcomers, doctors recommend short contact with cold water, 3-5 seconds maximum. In turn, rescuers recommend not wetting the head to avoid reflex vessel constriction and not staying in freezing water longer than one minute to avoid supercooling. Emergencies Ministry also recommends warming up the body before swimming. Stretching or running will do. After the bathing, swimmers should dress in warm and comfortable clothes and go in a warm place to drink hot tea or coffee.

Rescuers recommend swimming only in specially prepared places. "Swimming in unauthorized ice-holes is dangerous, as there can be strong undercurrents. Moreover, rescuers and ambulance do not watch unauthorized places, and in case of emergency, a swimmer will not get any help," press office of the Emergencies Ministry reports.

It's up to you whether to swim or not in freezing water. However, do not ignore recommendations of specialists, because even the slightest mistake may become vital. Remember the traditions but take care of yourself! 


Eight Ukrainians have died in water bodies since the year beginning.

Tetyana Matsur, photos by Viktor Kovalchuk


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