Winter Dip – Swim Race To The Cross – January 6

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swimmers racing to be the first to touch the cross in lavrio, greece
Swimmers on January 6th racing each other to be the first to reach the cross in the water.

January 6th is a big holiday in Greece – and considered by many to be the last day of the Christmas Season. Most businesses are closed on this day, the Day of Ephiphany or as some call it, “The Three Kings Day.” The religious holiday celebrates the day of Jesus Christ’s baptism by John The Baptist in the River Jordan.

Many Greeks will be at Church in the morning of January 6th as services mark the day throughout Orthodox churches in the country. In addition, there might be a little fun involved depending on how close the church is to the sea.

I’m not one for church attendance much, any more although I used to attend twice on a Sunday. In the past couple of years, I’ve been in more Orthodox churches though, than I’ve been in a Protestant church in the past 20 years. Actually, religious celebrations continue to intrigue me, but it would be more beneficial if I could understand the words being spoken. Nevertheless, I agreed to experience what a celebration of The Epiphany is like, especially with the other “goings on” on this past January 6th, in Lavrio, Greece.

So we, along with hundreds of other people who decided to visit the area that day, headed to the Cathedral of Saint Paraskevi (Εκκλησία Αγίας Παρασκευής) to begin the day’s festivities. There was a ceremony of some sort going on inside the church with lots of chanting and singing by the attending priests (and possibly a Bishop but I’m not sure).

Although I would have loved to have understood what was being chanted and sung, the only thing I could make out at times was “Jordan River” or “Potomas Iordania” – the river that Jesus Christ was reportedly baptized in.

The church service was very well attended – both inside and many outside the building. While some were taking photographs, I am a bit hesitant to take photos of people inside churches, so I have none. Outside the church however, I took quite a few photos including of the Lavrio Philharmonic Band, which would later lead the walk from the church down to the port.

January 6th happened to be a beautiful day here – you wouldn’t know it was winter at all. The morning just after dawn, when I woke up, was quite cool so I had worn a jacket – which ended up being quite uncomfortable inside the warm air of the crowded church. Outside the church, with the sun shining was equally uncomfortable as the day went on and the temperature warmed up.

But while the service was going on inside, the band outside was warming up and getting ready to play some tunes while doing a slow march down to the port.

lavrio philharmonic band gathered outside st. paraskevi church in lavrio
The Lavrio Philharmonic Band gathered outside the Cathedral of St. Paraskevi on January 6, 2023.

After the service was finally completed inside the church, things continued outside with the priests and Bishop leaving the church and one of them holding an important cross. There were other traditional things going on as well with some Greek men in traditional dress (similar to Scottish or Irish kilts but not exactly the same) that would carry an icon.

Lead by the Lavrio Philharmonic Band, the priests and traditional clad men would then walk in an almost slow funeral march type of walk down to the port area, followed by the hundreds of congregants who had gathered at the church.

lavrio philharmonic band on the march in lavrio on january 6th, 2023

priest carrying cross from the church

Traditionally dressed Greek men marching on January 6th, 2023

At first, as a person trying to experience a special day in the life of people who I am now spending much time with, it was really cool to walk with all the others behind the band, and the rest, but I couldn’t do it for long. They were walking so slow, it pained me. I have a hard time walking slowly and taking small steps on purpose. So I had to break free of the procession, but that enabled me to take more photos of which, I have many more and would probably bore you though if I posted them all.

So where did we end up marching to?

This would be a fun day for many, and while there were many who attended the church service, there would be even hundreds more waiting down at the port.

Unfortunately, I did not have a great view of everything that went on, and did not even totally understand what was happening.

But eventually, the priests would be taken aboard the Greece Coast Guard ship PLS 417 – with the cross still in hand:

priests and other orthodox figures on board pls 417 greek coast guard vessel

The Coast Guard ship would then sail some metres away from the dock where it has been moored. Unfortunately, I could not see the whole thing, but apparently, the priest or bishop would throw the cross into the water – the signal for swimmers to take off and race to be the first to grasp the cross.

I wasn’t in a position to get a photo of that – but next year, I’ll know better and instead of heading to St. Paraskevi Church, I’ll head right to the port and get myself into a good position to get more photos of the rest of the event.

In Greece, on January 6th, you’ll find people willing to take a dip in the sea which has turned cold, for the sake of being the first to reach the cross, to celebrate the Baptism of Christ.

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