TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. — Thousands are planning to turn up in Tarpon Springs on Saturday morning for one of the country's largest Epiphany ceremonies.
57 teenage boys plan to jump off the dock at the Spring Bayou in shorts and t-shirts, aiming to retrieve a cross, thrown into the water.
Epiphany celebrations honors the baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River more than 2,000 years ago.
This 100-plus year old Tarpon Springs tradition is a day-long affair, which 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. What follows is an Epiphany Glendi, a lively gathering with food, drink and live music. All of the day's events are free.
But this year is set to be colder than usual, with daytime temperatures in the fifties.
“I haven’t been swimming at all," said Panagiotis Vassios, who is diving in to try and retrieve the cross. "I was going to go practice but I’m too scared. It’s too cold! So I don’t know. It’s going to be my first time in the water tomorrow and I’m sure it’s going to be freezing. But I’m kind of excited for it!”
Those who lead the Epiphany ceremony and event for St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church say there will be thermal blankets on hand and paramedics on site, just in case the boys show any signs of hypothermia.
Church leaders offered the boys wetsuits, but they refused, saying they want to follow the tradition of going into the water in their barefoot, with shorts and t-shirts.
“I think they should just follow tradition and just try and keep their mind off it and just think about being blessed enough to retrieve the cross," said Joseph Cooley, who retrieved the cross last year.
"The water is set to be around 71 degrees in the Spring Bayou," said Johanna Kossifidis, a spokesperson for the Epiphany event.