Thousands of Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria on Wednesday defied warnings issued by government authorities to avoid mass gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic and kept instead to their centuries-old Epiphany traditions.
Young men plunged into the icy waters of rivers and lakes across Bulgaria to retrieve crucifixes tossed by priests in ceremonies commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ.
After the cross was fished out, the priest sprinkled believers with water using a bunch of basil.
In the small mountain city of Kalofer in central Bulgaria, dozens of men dressed in traditional white embroidered shirts waded into the frigid Tundzha River waving national flags and singing folk songs.
They performed a slow “mazhko horo,” or men’s dance, stomping on the rocky riverbed to bass drums and bagpipes.
A few local police officers attempted to prevent people from entering the river, threatening them with fines, but their calls were widely ignored.
Epiphany marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas, but not all Orthodox Christian churches celebrate it on the same day.
While the Orthodox Christian churches in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania celebrate the feast on Jan. 6, Orthodox Churches in Russia, Ukraine and Serbia follow the Julian calendar, according to which Epiphany is celebrated on Jan. 19, as their Christmas falls on Jan. 7.
Some Western Christian churches celebrate Epiphany as a commemoration of the visit of the Magi to the baby Jesus, which closes out the Christmas season.
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