Ice-water dipping in Siberia: Yakobi Park

Oksana Vasilieva | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Siberian people have many fascinating traditions. Their ways of celebrating holidays differ from what people in other countries are used to. People in my native town, for instance, celebrate New Year's Eve or Christmas differently (because the majority of them are Orthodox Christians). Locals of Irkutsk even have some unique Siberian dishes for their Orthodox Christmas and the New Year. But have you wondered how Siberians celebrate the Jesus Christ Epiphany (ten days after their Orthodox Christmas)? It's the exciting and wild tradition of ice-water dipping. The perfect place for such an activity is Yakobi Park.** You can join the celebrations** too if you are brave enough.

©Istock/Elena Odareeva

Why Siberians dip in icy water

Imagine a stinging cold winter in Siberia, one which can only happen in the middle of January (when the most terrible colds reign the region). And now imagine mass ice-water dipping when it's minus 40C outside. Do you want to try this practice? You should! 

©Istock/wrangler

There is a history behind this tradition, of course, going deep into the ancient times of the Scythians. In those times, Russia was not even Orthodox. But the Scythians practiced “swimming” in freezing water too. Catholics and Orthodox Christians both honor the Epiphany of Jesus Christ but in different ways. Catholics celebrate the Epiphany with a Solemn High Mass, and besides that, they have a nice candlelit service at church. Whereas for Orthodox Christians, it is totally different. Orthodox Christians celebrate the Epiphany by jumping into cold water, which is considered holy in this period. Siberians even believe that the water collected during this sacred night of Epiphany has magical powers.

Ice-water dipping know-how

On the night of January 19th, people go to ice-covered rivers to** make a hole in the ice, suitable for several people to plunge. In the morning of the ice-water dipping, there is a religious procession headed by a local priest. He blesses the paths of those present and the event itself. At night, the brave locals try to dip into ice-water. Others – not so courageous – wait for the priest to bless them with holy water. This activity is an ancient Siberian tradition going back to the time of Ivan the Terrible, who liked doing this practice in front of his foreign guests to shock** them.  

©Istock/mihtiander

Nowadays, this tradition is very popular among locals. In Siberia, we dip in city rivers or go to the deepest Siberian lake Baikal and plunge there. It seems reckless at first to see how people get in their swimming suits when it's so crazily cold outside, but it is even more shocking to see how those people plunge into cold water. Nevertheless, this is one of the nation's beloved traditions that people are proud to uphold each year. Moreover, ice-water dipping is considered healthy. Locals believe that you can boost your immune system this way. They even claim that not a single person went ill after dipping into ice-water.

Whether you believe in Siberian traditions or not, you should absolutely see ice-water dipping while traveling in Irkutsk! The best place to witness ice-water plunging and even participate is in Yakobi Park. The area of the park is conveniently situated within the city limits, in Irkutsk's most picturesque place – on the bay of the Angara River. It is the perfect place to spend your time with friends in the summer (the territory is equipped with picnic zones) as well as in the winter (you can try cross country skiing and skating on the ice, or have a cozy lunch break with warm traditional Siberian drinks and food).

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