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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Israel expecting thousands of pilgrims for Epiphany celebration


Pilgrims will go to Qasr el Yahud on the banks of the Jordan, where Jesus was believed to have been baptized

Israel is expecting over 10,000 Christian pilgrims at the tradition baptism site Qasr el Yahud for the holiday of Epiphany.


The site on the banks of the Jordan River near Jericho is believed to be where Jesus was baptized by John, which some view as his "spiritual birth".

Pilgrims are expected from Russia, Greece, and Ethiopia, among other countries.
The site is controlled by Israel's Nature and Parks Authority, and hosts the annual baptism, as well as being open 365 days a year.

In addition to Israel, thousands of men and women across Bulgaria, Russia and Greece plunged into icy waters Tuesday as part of the celebration for the feast of Epiphany.

From Thessaloniki in northern Greece to Istanbul and the small Bulgarian town of Kalofer, thick-skinned swimmers braved winter temperatures to retrieve wooden crucifixes thrown into the water by Orthodox priests as part of an annual ritual.

"Since the first time I made the dive at 18 years old I have always had good luck and good work," said one swimmer in Istanbul who gave his name as Baba.
The Bulgarian withstood the 10-degree celsius (50 degrees fahrenheit) waters of the Bosphorus to retrieve the cross.

"I hope that my dive will bring luck and health to my family," he added.
In Prague, participants -- several wearing paper crowns -- did not chase after a cross but still took an icy dip in the Vltava river for the traditional swim on Epiphany, also known as Three Kings day.


In Kalofer, in central Bulgaria, about 250 men broke the ice and waded into the slushy waters of the Tundzha river, while singing and performing a traditional chain dance dressed in white embroidered shirts and old-fashioned wool trousers and accompanied by a small folk orchestra.

The ritual is over 100 years old and unique in Bulgaria, mayor Rumen Stoyanov, who led the dance himself, told AFP.

Local tradition has it that only men can take part in the icy plunge, known as "saving the cross", but there is no age restriction, he said.


The youngest participant to brave the sub-zero temperatures was five-year-old Stilian accompanied by his father.

According to local belief, none of the dancers will get ill after taking the icy dip and he and his relatives will have a healthy year.


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