Ice bath for Jesus: Orthodox worshippers celebrate Epiphany

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Thousands of Orthodox Christian worshippers plunged into icy rivers and lakes across Bulgaria on Sunday to recover crucifixes cast by priests in ceremonies commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ.

Tradition holds that the person who retrieves the wooden cross will be freed from evil spirits and will be healthy throughout the year. After the cross is fished out, the priest sprinkles believers with water using a bunch of basil.

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Epiphany is held every year on Jan. 6 and marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas.

In the central Bulgarian mountain city of Kalofer, dozens of men dressed in white embroidered shirts waded into the Tundzha River waving national flags and singing folk songs Sunday.

Inspired by the music of drums and bagpipes, and perhaps by homemade plum brandy, they performed a slow "mazhko horo," or men's dance, stomping on the rocky riverbed.

Led by the town's mayor, the men danced for nearly half an hour, up to their waists in the freezing water, pushing away chunks of ice that were floating by.

Kalofer has applied to the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO, asking that they certify this traditional ritual as part of the "intangible cultural heritage of humanity."

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