SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) – Thousands of Orthodox Christian worshipers in Bulgaria on Wednesday ignored warnings from health authorities to refrain from mass gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic, saving instead the centuries-old traditions of Epiphany.
Young men dived into the icy waters of rivers and lakes across Bulgaria to retrieve crosses thrown by priests at the commemorations of the baptism of Jesus Christ.
Legend has it that a person who restores a wooden cross will be freed from evil spirits and be healthy throughout the year. After taking out the cross, the priest sprinkles the faithful with water using a bunch of basil.
In the small mountain town of Kalofer in central Bulgaria, dozens of men in traditional embroidered white shirts enter the frozen Tendja River waving national flags and singing folk songs. Inspired by bass drums and bagpipes and fortified with homemade alcoholic beverages, they perform the “Mazko Horo” slow dance, or the dance of men, as they step on a rocky riverbed.
Mayor Kalofer, who usually leads the dance, did not enter the river this year to set an example that coronavirus regulations should be followed.
A few local police officers tried to stop people from entering the river, threatening them with fines, but their calls were widely ignored.
Epiphany marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas, but not all Orthodox churches celebrate it on the same day.
While the Orthodox churches were in GreeceBulgaria and Romania celebrate the feast on January 6, Orthodox churches in Russia, Ukraine and Serbia follow the Julian calendar, according to which the Epiphany is celebrated on January 19, while Christmas falls on January 7.
Some Western Christian churches celebrate the religious feast of the Epiphany as the Day of the Three Kings, which marks the visit of the Magi, or three wise men, to the child Jesus, and concludes the Christmas season.
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