The Epiphany, celebrated in Russia on January 19. It marks the baptism of Jesus in the Orthodox Church calendar and according to tradition, the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist marked one of only two occasions when all three Persons of the Trinity manifested themselves simultaneously to humanity.
Russians all over the country cut holes in the ice of lakes and rivers, often in the shape of the cross, so that the waters may be blessed by a priest, dipping a cross three times into the water. Believing that thereby on this day water becomes holy and is imbued with special powers, many faithful across the country then bathe in the freezing water. Participants in the ritual generally dip themselves three times under the water, honoring the Holy Trinity, to symbolically wash away their sins from the past year, and to experience a sense of spiritual rebirth. Orthodox priests are on hand to repeatedly bless the water, and rescuers are on hand to monitor the safety of the swimmers in the ice-cold water.
In many places the first faithful arrive before sunrise and the ceremony continues throughout the day and well into the night. Since the ritual enjoys increasing popularity and even large cities have traditionally only a handful of locations where priests are blessing the water, the holes are generally very busy all day long. The water is taken home by the faithful who often store it to use in times of illness, to bless themselves, family members, and their homes, or to drink.