Paratroopers jump in to a special Ukrainian holiday

By Staff Sgt. Adriana Diaz-BrownJanuary 19, 2016

VERESHCHYTSYA, Ukraine - Neither the subzero temperatures outside or the snow couldn't stop soldiers from taking a dip in freezing cold water as paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade assigned to the Joint Multinational Training Group Ukraine celebrate the final day of the Christmas season, called Epiphany, Jan. 19, 2016.

The Epiphany, celebrated in Ukraine on Jan. 19, marks the baptism of Jesus in the Orthodox Church. Believing that on this day water becomes holy and is imbued with special powers, Ukrainians cut holes in the ice of lakes and rivers, often in the shape of the cross, to bathe in the freezing water. Participants in the ritual may dip themselves three times under the water, honoring the Holy Trinity, to symbolically wash away their sins from the past year, and to experience a sense of spiritual rebirth. People hope their plunge into the water will bring them health and happiness.

In addition to the celebration of this symbolic holiday, soldiers had the opportunity to interact with local residents and strengthen bonds with the local community by participating in the unique tradition of the Epiphany holiday.

"This is one opportunity that I am glad I got to take, but I don't think I will be doing this again. Once in a lifetime," said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Taylor, a paratrooper with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.