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115th annual Epiphany celebration has major changes due to COVID-19

Posted at 6:07 PM, Jan 04, 2021

TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — Hunter Sakadales remembers last year’s Epiphany celebration like it was yesterday.

“It was amazing," he said.

He said the crowd of more than 20,000 people was cheering. The sun was out, but it was cold, and his heart was beating fast as he and 56 other teen boys jumped into the Spring Bayou to retrieve the cross.

RELATED: 115th annual Epiphany Celebration in Tarpon Springs: What you need to know

Within seconds of jumping in, Sakadales came up with the cross.

“It means a lot to us,” he said.

He was 18, and that was his last chance to dive.

“To be part of this, and to be the one who retrieved the cross is a dream come true," he said.

The event celebrates the baptism of Jesus Christ in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist. More than 20,000 people from all over come to Tarpon Springs for the celebration.

“It means a lot to us,” said Hunter Sakadales.

It’s a day-long affair that is highlighted by local teenage boys diving into Spring Bayou to retrieve a cross thrown into the water by an archbishop. The boy who surfaces with the cross is said to have good luck for the following year.

For the first time in 115 years, huge crowds are not allowed.

“We have to do what we can to stop the spread of COVID,” said Sakadales.

This year, they’re only allowing 55 divers between the ages of 16-18. The boys are allowed to invite two family members to watch. The divers will have to wear a mask before getting in the bayou, and they have to put them back on once they’re out.

“This is still the same holy tradition and blessing of the water,” Sakadales said. “Just with a smaller crowd, but have fun, Keep your head up, and get the cross.”

The ceremonial procession and popular Glendi Celebration after-party are canceled, and there will be limited capacity allowed inside St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

Sakadales said the boys should still appreciate being apart of such a rich tradition, and “keep their head up and get the cross!”