Citizens of the mountain town of Kalofer, in central Bulgaria, clad in traditional dresses stand in the icy Tundzha River, some waving national flags to recover a crucifix cast by a priest in an old ritual marking the feast of Epiphany, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. The legend goes that the person who retrieves the wooden cross will be freed from evil spirits and will be healthy throughout the year. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova)
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KALOFER, Bulgaria (AP) — Christians on Wednesday marked Epiphany in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which constrained celebrations in many places but didn't stop some defying warnings to keep to traditions.

Orthodox Christians celebrate Jesus’ baptism during Epiphany. In Bulgaria, thousands of worshippers ignored health authorities' warnings to refrain from mass gatherings, braving icy waters to retrieve crucifixes thrown in by priests.

In the mountain town of Kalofer, dozens of men dressed in traditional white embroidered shirts waded into the frigid Tundzha River.

In neighboring Greece, the government relented and allowed limited attendance at churches, reversing a ban designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. In Thessaloniki, police and coast guard forces spread across the waterfront to prevent a traditional Epiphany blessing event from taking place.

With no visiting faithful from Greece or other Orthodox countries, only two swimmers raced to retrieve a cross cast into Istanbul's Golden Horn during an Epiphany ceremony.

Epiphany marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas, but not all Orthodox Christian churches celebrate it on the same day.

While the Orthodox Christian churches in Greece, Bulgaria and Romania celebrate the feast on Jan. 6, Orthodox Churches in Russia, Ukraine and Serbia follow the Julian calendar, according to which Epiphany is celebrated on Jan. 19, as their Christmas falls on Jan. 7.

Some Western Christian churches celebrate the religious holiday of Epiphany as the Three Kings Day, which marks the visit of the Magi, or three wise men, to the baby Jesus, and closes out the Christmas season.

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