Greeks celebrate Epiphany with blessings of the water after 2 years of COVID restrictions

Greeks celebrated Epiphany Friday with blessing of the waters ceremonies across the country.

The holiday is known as Three Kings Day for Catholics and the Baptism of Christ for the Orthodox. Greece is predominantly Orthodox.

Unseasonably warm weather helped bring out the crowds for the outdoor celebrations, with swimmers competing against each other to grasp a floating cross thrown by priests into seas, rivers or lakes. Retrieving the cross is believed to confer special blessing upon the person who retrieves it.

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In 2021, celebrations had been severely affected by the restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic; last year, celebrations had been canceled or scaled back in many parts of Greece as the country struggled with a huge surge in COVID-19 infections.

A woman kisses the cross during an Epiphany ceremony at a suburb in Piraeus port, near Athens, Greece, on Jan. 6, 2023.
(AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

In the port of Piraeus, a cross is traditionally thrown three times, to accommodate the throngs of swimmers.

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In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city, the man who retrieved the cross told media that he had been trying to do so since 1996, missing only two occasions.