“Thousands of members of the Russian Orthodox Church marked Epiphany in January with a dip in freezing waters blessed by a cleric. Epiphany is a celebration of the baptism of Jesus Christ and the revelation of God as a human being in his form. Much like a baptism, the icy plunge is considered a purifying act of faith.”
Some of the photography and photo galleries of this cultural event are breathtaking–literally for those taking the plunge. Russians cut the ice in the shape of a cross and bath in water that is blessed and considered holy as explained in this NPR podcast. This religious tradition is particularly well-suited to the environmental conditions of the religious adherents (since the extreme climate plays a critical role in the activity). Part of the practice involves sacrifice; the colder the swim, the greater the manifestation of religious devotion.