This is the moment Orthodox Christians in Bulgaria ignored COVID-19 warnings about mass gatherings and ploughed ahead with traditional Epiphany celebrations.
In ceremonies commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ, young men plunged into the icy waters of rivers and lakes to retrieve crucifixes tossed by priests
The legend goes that the person who retrieves the wooden cross will be freed from evil spirits and will be healthy throughout the year. After the cross is fished out, the priest sprinkles believers with water using a bunch of basil.
In the small mountain city of Kalofer in central Bulgaria, dozens of men dressed in traditional white embroidered shirts waded into the Tundzha River national flags and sang folk songs.
Inspired by bass drums and bagpipes and fortified by homemade liquors, they performed a slow “mazhko horo,” or men’s dance, stomping on the rocky riverbed.
The mayor of Kalofer, who usually leads the dance, this year did not enter the river to set an example that regulations have to be followed.
Few local police officers attempted to prevent 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 Christian churches celebrate it on the same day.
While the Orthodox Christian churches in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania celebrate the feast on January 6, Orthodox Churches in Russia, Ukraine and Serbia follow the Julian calendar, according to which Epiphany is celebrated on January 19, as their Christmas falls on January 7.