Крещенское купание в проруби / An Icy Swim for the Baptism Feast

Epiphany icy swimming hole

Audio Content: Comments from people who are marking Epiphany (Baptism of the Lord) with a purifying wintertime dip in icy water.
Visual Content: Images from across Russia of the baptism practice, including cross-shaped holes in the ice, the blessing of the water, church processions, threefold dips in the water and people in bathing suits.

Watch the video at Первый канал.

On January 19, the Russian Orthodox Church and other Christian churches in the eastern tradition mark the religious holiday Крещение Господне (Baptism of the Lord), also known as Богоявление (the Appearance of God). The holiday commemorates Jesus’s baptism as an adult in the River Jordan. The rite was performed by John the Baptist and is considered to mark the beginning of Jesus’s public life. The Gospels claim that during the baptism God spoke from heaven, proclaiming Jesus his son, and also that the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove; thus Jesus’s divine nature was revealed. This Orthodox holiday roughly corresponds to the Roman Catholic Epiphany, which similarly marks the appearance of God (“epiphany” comes from the Greek for “showing” or “appearance”), although the western holiday is primarily associated with the visit of the three wise men shortly after Jesus’s birth. Technically, Epiphany / Крещение falls on January 6th in both western and eastern Christian churches. However, since the Russian Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar, the celebration falls on January 19th in secular terms.

Water is believed to acquire extra purifying power on the feast of Крещение. Many believers mark the holiday by baptizing themselves in icy water, dipping three times successively in holes cut through the frozen surface of lakes and ponds. The hole in the ice is often cut in the shape of a large cross; the water is then blessed by members of the clergy. Warming stations with hot beverages are commonly set up to support the icy swimmers. Believers are convinced that their commemorative baptisms bring both spiritual and physical benefits: the holy and very cold water washes away sins, purifies the soul, gives the body a refreshing energetic shock and contributes to good health throughout the following year. Thus these icy baptisms illustrate the growth of Orthodox religious practice in today’s Russia as well as the longstanding popularity of folk medicine in Russian culture. One article I read reported that more than 1.8 million people marked Крещение with baptisms in 2017.

This post lets you listen in on a few of the comments believers make about their dips in the icy water. You can see several more pictures of the ritual in this article.

Заметки о языке: The hole in the ice is called a “прорубь” from the verb “прорубить”=”to chop through.” “Окунаться в проруби”=”to take a dip in a hole in the ice.” After 2:25, the priest appends the conversational suffix “-то” to a few words. This adds emphasis and in some ways is a replacement for the definite article that doesn’t exist in Russian. After 3:50, “обалденный” (from the verb “обалдеть,” to be stunned) is a fun slang word for “awesome, amazing.”

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Video Clip

young woman out for baptism dip

View the video clip at Первый канал.


Russian Transcript



Девушка: Главное, не идти потом в баню, а именно так чуть-чуть пройтись по холоду, и все будут прекрасно. Весь год здоровая.


Священник: Новое рождение такое, ежегодное. Очищающее действие. Но, хочу сказать, что это не обязательно для всех.


Мужчина: Незабываемо!

Женщина: Спаси Господи, ой, спаси Господи!

Мужчина: Ну, просто это экстрим такой. Это новое здоровье, новая жизнь. Все новое!

Московская область 


Иерей Андрей: Дух-то это Бог. И вот именно Бог и дает силу-то и крепость. Поэтому безусловно человек, когда крестился, и Духа Святого впустил в сердце свое, то есть человек становится крепким духом.

Пожилой мужчина: Внучка хотел взять, не пошел. А я так, с удовольствием.

Отец мальчика: Нет, нет, это Божья благодать. Ничего плохого не может быть.

Черкесск: И мусульмане участвуют в обряде.


Мужчина: Бог един! Купание, говорится, что это от Бога все.

Другой мужчина: У нас единая семья [земля?]. Дал Аллах вам всем сто лет без капитального ремонта.




Женщина: Это просто обалденное ощущение. Это классно, это нужно обязательно испытать. Хотя бы раз в жизни.

Мужчина: Ну, в начале много сомневаешься, сомневаешься и еще раз сомневаешься.



Мужчина: Оздоровительный эффект есть. Просто энергия приливает.

Молодой человек: Как будто организм, не знаю, обнуляется, перечищается.

Девушка: Первый раз. Но и не последний.

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English Translation



Young woman: The important thing is not to go afterwards into the sauna, but to walk about just like this a little bit in the cold, and everything will be great. Healthy all year long.


Priest: It’s a sort of new birth, yearly. A purifying effect. But, I do want to say that this is not required for everyone.


Man: Unforgettable!

Woman: Lord save [me], oh, Lord save [me]!

Man: Well, it’s just a sort of extreme experience. It’s new health, a new life. Everything is new!

Moscow Region 


Priest Andrei: The Spirit is God. And it’s precisely God who gives strength and solidity. Therefore, absolutely, when the person was baptized, he also let the Holy Spirit into his heart, that is, the person becomes strong in spirit.

Older Man: I wanted to take my little grandson, [but] he didn’t go. Me, on the other hand, why not, with pleasure.

Boy’s father [asked about whether he’s concerned about his son]: No, no, this is the grace of God. There can’t be anything bad.

Cherkessk – here some Muslims take part in the ritual alongside Christians


Man: God is one! The swimming… it is said that this is all from God.

Another man: We have a unified family [or, “land”?]. [May] Allah give all of you one hundred years without any big home maintenance jobs!



Woman: It is a simply stunning sensation. It is cool, one should definitely experience it. At least once in life.

Man: Well, at the beginning you have a lot of doubts, you doubt, and you doubt once again…



Man: There is a positive health effect. Energy simply flows in.

Young man: It’s as if the body — I don’t know — goes back to the starting point, cleans itself out.

Young woman: The first time — but not the last!

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