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Bulgarian Orthodox believers celebrate Epiphany by diving after wooden crucifixes in icy water

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    Believers walk and sing in the icy waters of river Tundzha as they celebrate Epiphany day in the town of Kalofer, Bulgaria, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013. Traditionally, an Eastern Orthodox priest throws a cross in the river and it is believed that the one who retrieves it will be healthy through the year. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova) (The Associated Press)

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    A Bulgarian boy holds a cross as believers sing and dance in the icy waters of river Tundzha to celebrate Epiphany day in the town of Kalofer, Bulgaria, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013. Traditionally, an Eastern Orthodox priest throws a cross in the river and it is believed that the one who retrieves it will be healthy through the year. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova) (The Associated Press)

  • 65db7badbb59d100250f6a70670034df.jpg

    Believers sing and dance in the icy waters of river Tundzha as they celebrate Epiphany day in the town of Kalofer, Bulgaria, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013. Traditionally, an Eastern Orthodox priest throws a cross in the river and it is believed that the one who retrieves it will be healthy through the year. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova) (The Associated Press)

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    An Orthodox priest baptizes newborn baby in the icy waters of river Tundzha during celebrations of Epiphany day in the town of Kalofer, Bulgaria, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013. Traditionally, an Eastern Orthodox priest throws a cross in the river and it is believed that the one who retrieves it will be healthy through the year. (AP Photo/Valentina Petrova) (The Associated Press)

Thousands of young men are plunging into icy rivers and lakes across Bulgaria to retrieve crucifixes cast by priests in an old ritual marking the feast of Epiphany.

By tradition, a wooden cross is cast into the water and it is believed that the person who retrieves it will be freed from evil spirits.

In the central city of Kalofer, 350 men in traditional dress waded into the icy Tundzha River with national flags. Led by the town's mayor and encouraged by a folk orchestra and homemade plum brandy, they dance and stomp the rocky riverbed.