December 04, 2021

Get Your Freeze On



Get Your Freeze On
Painful to watch, let alone engage in. Wikimedia Commons user Пётр Иванов

As Russia heads into winter (winter officially begins in Russia on December 1), lovers of polar bear swimming are diving in all over the country. After all, it has been snowing across Russia's 11 time zones this week.

Last winter was one of the mildest in Russian history. The "northern capital," St. Petersburg – which last year left small children with sleds barely any snow for their parents to pull them across for the past couple of winters – opened December with a few days of almost nonstop driving snowfall.

Given some Russians' uber-superstitious views on coldness (for instance, that a slight, brief draft blowing on your back will give you a cold or local muscle pain), it is a wonder that other Russians readily jump into frigid water and form polar swim clubs.

As with many not-fully-explainable things, Russian ice swimming has a religious origin. On Epiphany (January 19) every year, ice baptisms are held across Orthodox Russia. Although in remembrance of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist, the Russian tradition does not come with the Jordan River's January 19 weather.

Even the tsars would descend from the Winter Palace to the Neva River every January 19.

Secular morzh (walrus) clubs have popped up all over the country and swim all winter – not just on Epiphany. Enthusiasts claim that their hobby improves the body's circulation and immunity, but we join those Russians who fear a slight draft in being doubtful of that.

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