In the West news stations love to show videos of ‘crazy Russians’ swimming in icy water. “Oh they’re probably drunk” or “well, Russians are half polar bear” are some of the explanations we come up with to try and understand why anyone would want to subject themselves to such torture. You will see Russians dipping in ice all through out the winter, perhaps after a long session in the banya. But on Крещение (baptism), the Orthodox holiday, Epiphany, commemorating Christ’s baptism you’ll see long lines of people waiting in sub-freezing temperatures to swim in a frozen river to be cleansed of their sins or at least to show everyone their bravery and cute swimsuit that hasn’t been used in several months.
This week’s theme is going to be headlines from Russian newspapers of late. And one headline that was all over last week leading up to the January 19th holiday, Крещение, typically contained several of the words mentioned in this post today.
Yesterday’s headlines included pictures of people swimming in the проруби (holes cut into the ice), you can find these all year round for ice fishing or crazy Russian swimming but the following is the ice hole specific to this holiday: иордань
This is an ice hole, traditionally cut in the shape of a cross, where people do their icy dip. This is obviously taken from the name of the river where Jesus Christ was baptized: река Иордан.
This article from Комсомолская правда explains:
“Вечером, 18 января, после водосвятного молебна, на столичных водоемах открылись иордани, в которых, по поверью, можно смыть все свои грехи.”
“In the evening of January 18, after a Holy Water service, in the ponds of the capital, Jordans opened, in which, according to belief, you can wash away all your sins.”
The next word that is useful to know when reading these articles is: окунуться/окунаться
This means to take a dip in.
The Komsomolskaya Pravda page changed their background to this:
And another article explained that this year taking a dip in the icy water had been more of a trend than a sudden need people are feeling to have their sins washed away:
“Но сегодня обычай окунуться в морозную прорубь стал для нецерковных людей чем-то новомодным. Здесь уже речь идет не о силе духа, а о силе тела.”
“But today the tradition to take a dip in the frosty ice hole has become for the non-regligious people sort of a new fad. Here what’s being talked about is not so much the strength of spirit as the strength of the body.”
So here’s another word: Ледяной- icy
It has indeed become quite trendy. This article shows the famous ballerina Anastasia Volochkova, who is quite a prominent figure in Russia, taking her own Epiphany dip. But this is nothing new for the dancer who says she does this on a regular basis:
“Анастасия не скрывает: поддерживать фигуру ей помогают не только ежедневные тренировки, но и русская баня с ледяной купелью…Парюсь в бане с 15 лет. И обязательно прыгаю после в ледяную воду. Для тонуса, для настроения и для здоровья. После этой процедуры чувствую невероятный приток энергии и сил!”
“Anastasia doesn’t hide the fact that to maintain her figure not only daily workouts help but also a Russian banya with an icy basin….’I have been steaming in the banta since I was 15. And I always jump after it into icy water. For muscle tone, for a good mood and for health. After this procedure I feel an unbelievable surge of energy and strength.’”
So if it’s so great for you then no wonder everyone wants to do it. One newspaper article wrote about this unexpected participant who also wanted to take part in the tradition.
After reading you’ll understand why our word for this section is: аплодисменты
As this foreigner, who comes from a country that never sees iced over water, approached people thought he was crazy and that he wouldn’t be able to do it. But he did it and the article explains:
“Машуд быстро подбежал в проруби, ловко спустился по лестнице и окунулся. Как положено. Троекратно. С головой… И случайная публика неожиданно взорвалась аплодисментами!”
“Mashud quickly ran up to the ice hole, smoothly went down the stairs and dipped in as required: three times from the head. And the accidental audience erupted in applause.”
I too applaud him. He will have quite the story to tell to his friends and family back in Ghana. And hopefully they too give him аплодисменты. But I doubt that they’ll be able to comprehend just how cold it was.
This video is a little long but you’ll be surprised to see that the practice of dipping in ice water is not just done by manly men and health-freak ballerinas. I can’t believe all the babushki in their house gowns just going for it in this.
And now for my final word. It’s a very important word to know when living in Russia and it has been going through my head as I’ve been looking at all these pictures and video: Бррр-burr.