‘Tis the Season for … Water Traditions

The holiday season is upon us, and because we’re always thinking about water here at LCA, we were wondering how it’s used in winter celebrations around the world. We asked our Elf on the Shelf to do a little research for us. Here’s what she turned up:

In Serbia, there’s a tradition called “strong water.” Early on Christmas morning, girls go out to collect a bucketful of water from a well, spring, or stream. The water is believed to bring purity and good health, and is used for drinking, baking and bathing.

In other parts of Eastern Europe, it’s common for people to go for a winter swim — in regular swimsuits, not heated wetsuits — as part of the celebration of the Epiphany. Brrr!

And, of course, there are polar bear plunges, usually on New Year’s Day, held all over North America and Western Europe. Most participants don’t swim, though; they just jump in the water and get right back out — which still sounds too cold for us!   

In London, England, members of the Serpentine Swimming Club have been competing in a 100-yard Christmas Day race in the Serpentine Lake since 1864. The winner of this frigid frolic gets a gold medal (and, most likely, a nasty head cold!). In Berlin, members of the Berlin Seals ice swimming club take a traditional Christmas day dip in the Orankesee Lake.

In Hawaii, Santa arrives by boat, and in Australia, he trades reindeer for water skis. Ho, ho, H20!

Speaking of water skis, Alexandria, Va., is home to “the longest-running water ski Christmas show” in the U.S. It apparently started in 1986, when some friends drew straws to decide who would water ski in a Santa Claus suit on Christmas Eve. More than thirty years later, the tradition is still going strong.  

Greece has a number of Christmas traditions involving water. In one, it’s used to keep away nasty creatures called Killantzaroi: hairy, half-human, half-animal monsters with red eyes, big heads, tusks, long tongues and creepy claws. Fresh basil is wrapped around a wooden cross, which is then used to sprinkle holy water around the house.

According to legend, if a house isn’t protected over the holiday season, the Killantzaroi will come down the chimney or through a door to wreak havoc. Food and drink will be ruined, furniture will be smashed, and anyone unlucky enough to be home will be frightened out of their wits. Top that, Grinch!

There’s also a celebration called the “Renewal of the Waters.”  On Jan. 1, called St. Basil’s Day, gifts are exchanged, and “all the water jugs in the house are emptied and refilled with new ‘St. Basil’s Water.’ The ceremony is often accompanied by offerings to the naiads, spirits of springs and fountains.”

On the sixth day of Kwanza, which honors African heritage, there’s a tradition involving a special cup called the “kikombe cha umoja.” The cup is filled with water, juice or wine, then passed around to family and friends, who drink from it to promote unity. The oldest person then pours the last of the drink “in the direction of the four winds — north, south, east, and west — to honor the ancestors.”

Our list is by no means complete — elves are busy this time of year, after all — so if you know of any other winter holiday traditions involving water, we’d love to hear them. Please share them on our Facebook page.

And no matter how you celebrate, we wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season!