Russian Unique Tradition of "Ice Bath"

From January 18 to 19, Russians celebrate Epiphany by taking a dip in freezing cold water.

Russian Unique Tradition of "Ice Bath"

What is Epiphany Ice Bath?


Ice baptism is a great festival for all Orthodox Christians. The Russian custom of "ice bath" is believed to have originated with the Epiphany (January 19), which is one of the oldest Christian holidays to commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. During the immersion of Jesus in the water, the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove. At that moment, a voice from heaven declared that this man was the Son of God, bringing His will to the world. It is believed that the event marked the appearance of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. According to Russian tradition, on Epiphany, each person is immersed in ice water three times, which is equivalent to invoking the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

Today, more and more tourists and non-believers of the Russian Orthodox Church also join this unique custom. Millions of people participate in diving in cold water with the belief that they will be cleansed of their souls and have good health throughout the year. And at the same time, many people come to this custom with a simple desire to conquer themselves. Particularly in Moscow and surrounding areas, every year more than 200,000 people participate in diving in the cold ice holes. Even in Siberia, the coldest place in the world with temperatures that can drop to minus 40 - 50°C, there are a lot of people participating in this traditional activity. Interestingly, Russian President Vladimir Putin for many years has always kept the tradition of immersing himself in an ice hole on January 19.

Local authorities in Russia often organize very thoughtfully for people's "ice bath" activities. Due to the fact that most rivers and lakes are frozen, the government actively conducts ice cutting to form large holes for people to dive under the close supervision of rescue teams. A large number of staff from the Ministry of Emergency Situations, medical staff and police forces, were deployed to bathing spots. Mobile changing rooms and hot tea are prepared for the participants. Meanwhile, the food stalls with hot dishes in the cold weather also contribute to creating a real festival for the people.

Epiphany Ice Bathing Rules

  • When participating in "ice bath", to avoid sudden hypothermia and frostbite, you should gradually take off each layer of clothing on the body to help the body adapt to the outdoor temperature, and then apply a thick layer of cream on the body or drink a spoonful of fish oil to retain heat.
  • You should warm up carefully before entering the water and wear shoes or sandals to avoid slipping on the ice.
  • You should not immerse yourself in the ice hole for more than one minute and do not immerse your head in the water to avoid sudden cerebral vasoconstriction.
  • After bathing, don't forget to drink hot sweet tea with herbs.
  • Epiphany bathing is prohibited for pregnant women, children and adolescents under 12 years of age, hypertensive patients, diabetics, and people with diseases of the genitourinary system. In addition, doctors still advise people with bronchial, cardiovascular and blood pressure diseases not to participate in this activity.

Where to jump into ice cold water on Epiphany day?


Both Moscow and Saint Petersburg have sites for epiphany bathing. Specifically, this year, there are 46 places in Moscow and 23 places in Saint Petersburg for ice bathing.

Minh Nghia Pham