Christians Celebrate Epiphany Across Europe (Photos)

A man hands over a cross retrieved from the sea during a water blessing ceremony marking the Epiphany celebrations, at Piraeus suburb, near Athens, on Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — Christians across Europe celebrated Epiphany on Sunday, with worshippers plunging into icy waters and parades being held in Poland and elsewhere.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis marked the Epiphany feast day by urging people to follow the path of “humble love” and care for those who can give nothing back.

For the Catholic Church, Jan. 6 recalls the journey of the three Magi, also known as kings or wise men, to find Jesus in a humble abode in Bethlehem. In Spain, children leave their shoes out in expectation of receiving gifts from the three kings.

Thousands of Orthodox Christians took a dip in icy lakes and rivers across Bulgaria to recover crucifixes cast by priests in ceremonies commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ.

Tradition holds 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 central Bulgarian mountain city of Kalofer, dozens of men dressed in white embroidered shirts waded into the Tundzha River waving national flags and singing folk songs Sunday.

Polar swimmers ride in a boat prior their traditional Three Kings swim in the Vltava River in Prague, Czech Republic, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Inspired by the music of drums and bagpipes, and perhaps by homemade plum brandy, they performed a slow “mazhko horo,” or men’s dance, stomping on the rocky riverbed.

Led by the town’s mayor, the men danced for nearly half an hour, up to their waists in the freezing water, pushing away chunks of ice that were floating by.

Kalofer has applied to the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO, asking that they certify this traditional ritual as part of the “intangible cultural heritage of humanity.”

Dozens of Orthodox men dove into Istanbul’s cold waters to retrieve a cross to mark the baptism of Jesus Christ. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I led worshippers in the Epiphany, throwing a blessed wooden cross into the Golden Horn inlet.

Michalis Voznakidis from Greece took the cross and the men kissed it before coming ashore. He said “we are here for everyone, for our religion.”

In Poland, hundreds of thousands of people have participated in colorful Epiphany processions in more than 700 locations across the country, which is predominantly Catholic.

Polar swimmers take part in their traditional Three Kings swim in the Vltava River in Prague, Czech Republic, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. The Prague Castle is in the background. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Around 40,000 people of all ages, wearing paper crowns, walked in the procession in downtown Warsaw that included actors richly dressed as the three wise men, and a paper dragon.

Epiphany Procession Foundation spokeswoman Jolanta Stachacz, said Sunday that around 1.2 million people participated across Poland.

The procession was canceled in the northern city of Koszalin in a sign of mourning for five teenage girls who died Friday in a fire at an escape room entertainment location.

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By VESELIN TOSHKOV, Associated Press

AP journalists from across Europe contributed to this report.

A swimmer holds up the cross after it was thrown from an Orthodox priest into the water, during an epiphany ceremony to bless the sea at Famagousta or Varosia beach in the Turkish Cypriots breakaway north part of the eastern Mediterranean divided island of Cyprus, Sunday, Jan 6, 2019. Many Orthodox Christian faithful attended the Epiphany Day blessing of the waters in Famagusta in Cyprus’, the fourth time the ceremony has taken place since 1974 when the small island nation was cleaved along ethnic lines. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)
In this photo taken with slow shutter speed Pope Francis leaves after celebrating an Epiphany Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. Pope Francis has appealed to European leaders to show “concrete solidarity” to 49 migrants stranded aboard a pair of rescue vessels. Francis, addressing faithful in St. Peter’s Square Sunday, noted that the migrants, rescued in the Mediterranean. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)
An Orthodox faithful waits to kiss a cross after a water blessing ceremony marking the Epiphany celebrations, at Piraeus suburb, near Athens, on Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. Similar ceremonies marking Epiphany were held across Greece on river banks, seafronts and lakes, where Orthodox priests throw a cross into the water and swimmers race to retrieve it. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)
A man kisses a cross during a water blessing ceremony marking the Epiphany celebrations, at Piraeus suburb, near Athens, on Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. Similar ceremonies marking Epiphany were held across Greece on river banks, seafronts and lakes, where Orthodox priests throw a cross into the water and swimmers race to retrieve it. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)
Bulgarians sing and chaindance in the icy waters of the Tundzha river in Kalofer, Bulgaria, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019. (AP Photo)
Participants listen to instructions before the start of a “Cabalgata de Reyes,” Epiphany parade in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. Colorful parades celebrate Epiphany, when Christians observe the visit of the Three Kings or the Three Wise Men’ to baby Jesus.(AP Photo/Paul White)
A participant dances during a “Cabalgata de Reyes,” Epiphany parade in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. Colorful parades celebrate Epiphany, when Christians observe the visit of the Three Kings or the Three Wise Men’ to baby Jesus.(AP Photo/Paul White)
A performer is lifted in the air by gas balloons as she passes an illuminated Christmas tree during a “Cabalgata de Reyes,” Epiphany parade in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. Colorful parades celebrate Epiphany, when Christians observe the visit of the Three Kings or the Three Wise Men’ to baby Jesus.(AP Photo/Paul White)

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