Iordanov Den Explained: How to Celebrate Jordan’s Day in Bulgaria (Epiphany)

Iordanov Den (Iordanovden) is a day celebrated in quirky Bulgarian tradition.

Here you can read all about this holiday, and where you can celebrate it!

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What is Iordanov Den?

Iordanov Den is the Bulgarian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany. In Bulgaria, Epiphany is celebrated as the day that Jesus Christ was baptized in the River Jordan by St. John the Baptist.

The “Epiphany” moment in Bulgarian tradition is when God confirms Jesus is his son after the baptism:

“And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:13-17

This holiday is sometimes incorrectly called “St. Jordan’s Day” but in English it would just be “Jordan’s Day” – named after the river and not a Saint.

A swimmer swims through icy chunks in open water like Bulgarians at Iordanov Den

When is Iordanov Den?

Iordanov Den happens every year on January 6th. This marks 12 days after Christmas.

In Christian religions, the 12 days of Christmas represent the amount of time it took for the wise men to reach baby Jesus in Bethlehem and confirm that he was the Son of God.

Interestingly, in other countries Epiphany is celebrated as this event (the wise men) and not the baptism of Jesus, so I’m not sure why Bulgaria stuck with the 12 days.

How Iordanov Den is Celebrated

The ceremonies of Iordanov Den begin with the priest blessing the body of water they will be using.

This celebration is often performed at a river, but lakes or other bodies of water are used too.

Rocks hide just beneath the surface of a lake covered in ice chunks around the time of Iordanov Den

Once the priest has blessed the icy January waters, he throws a cross into it, and all the young men leap into the water to try be the first to retrieve it.

(Sort of like an extreme garter toss.)

Sometimes the men are already in the water waiting for the cross to be thrown. Usually the priest will throw it from a bridge if possible.

Why do the young men go into frozen water on Iordanov Den?

The celebration represents the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, but the reasons are more superstitious in nature.

It is believed that the person who successfully retrieves the crucifix will be blessed with health and happiness all year.

It is also said that if the weather is cold, the year will be blessed.

If the cross freezes, everyone will enjoy health and fertility all year.

I am a little fuzzy on what that means “if the cross freezes.”

Does that mean it collects ice crystals in the water, or it’s covered in ice when it hits the air?

I can’t imagine it has time to freeze into the water when a stampede of healthy young men are after it.

Iordanov Den in Bulgaria. Men in traditional white folk shirts with their arms around each other in the river.
(Image credit @sviretsov_photography)

Who Can Participate in Iordanov Den?

Though the tradition is said to be for young men, it seems that men young and young at heart, participate in this event, as do some boys.

Though the tradition is Bulgarian, I don’t think there is any reason a tourist could not join in, if you dare!

After the Iordanov Den Plunge

What happens after the dive into the icy waters, can vary from place to place.

Receiving the Blessing

Typically the man who retrieves the cross receives a blessing from the priest, by being sprinkled with the newly consecrated water via a bouquet of basil. Then the priest also blesses the crowd.

In some places the holy water is bottled up in vials for the crowds to take home.

There is a tradition where the holy water from the previous Iordanov Den is used in baking three loaves of bread.

(Said to represent the three wise men.)

One loaf is for the family, another for friends or guests, and another is left at the door for strangers passing by.

Traditional Dancing

In some celebrations the men will stay in the water after the crucifix is retrieved and perform a Bulgarian “Horo.”

A portly older man in a Bulgarian folk shirt plays a drum in the icy chest deep water of a river for Iordanov Den
(Image credit @sviretsov_photography)

A horo is the national dance of Bulgaria. It is a type of folk dancing, usually performed in a circle, while either holding hands, or wrapping arms around one another.

During Iordanov Den, the horo is danced in the water, instruments and all! Often the men play drums and gaida – a type of bagpipe.

During this time it is not uncommon to pass around the rakia, to both celebrate and warm their insides.

Orthodox Mass

After the celebrations, the faithful will attend a special Epiphany mass. Usually this is followed by feasting.

Where You Can See Iordanov Den

Most cities and villages in Bulgaria will have a celebration for Iordanov Den. If you happen to be in Bulgaria, ask the locals!

If you want to visit Bulgaria specifically for the celebration, here are a few places you can go:

Kalofer

The village of Kalofer has the most famous Iordanov Den celebration in Bulgaria.

Here rather than just donning swim trunks and leaping into the water, the men dress in traditional white shirts with embroidery, and come prepared for the horo.

Kalofer performs the ritual slightly differently too!

In Kalofer, no matter who actually retrieves the cross, it is given to the youngest boy who dared to enter the water.

Man in Bulgarian embroidered shirt and pants plays a drum at Iordanov Den

Epiphany in this town draws thousands every year to come observe and join in the celebrations.

Getting to Kalofer for Iordanov Den

There are a few places to stay in Kalofer, but you will need to book well in advance for this famous event.

I checked two months ahead of time and everything local was booked already.

You should be able to find accommodation in the nearby town of Kazanluk, which is about a 35 minute drive.

The closest bigger city is Plovdiv, at only an hour away.

Kalofer is a little less than 2.5 hours from the capital city of Sofia.

Just make sure you leave early in the morning, because morning is when the icy ritual is performed.

Sofia

If you don’t want to venture into the countryside, or you don’t have enough time, then you can observe Jordan’s Day, right in Sofia!

Local officials make sure that Druzhba Park Lake is clean and free of dangerous objects in advance of the event.

They even break up the ice for the celebration if the lake is completely frozen over! Brrrr!



This event also attracts thousands! Dress warm and arrive early to watch the ritual.

For places to stay, things to do, and delicacies to eat, check out my Sofia article!

Name Days in Bulgaria

If your name is Jordan, January 6th is a big day for you too!

In Bulgaria, people celebrate their name days. It’s almost like a birthday!

Usually one’s name day is decided by what saint your name is derived from.

January 6th, Iordanov Den, is the name day for:

Yordan (Jordan, Iordan), Bozhidar, Bogdan, Yordanka, Boiana, Boian

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A young boy clutches the cross at Iordanov Den in Kalofer
(Image credit @sviretsov_photography)

FAQ About Iordanov Den

Is this strictly a Bulgarian tradition?

Nope! Romanians and Greeks celebrate the tradition of Iordanov Den almost exactly the same.

Other Balkan countries have similar festivities involving freezing bodies of water, like a swimming race, etc.

Some countries celebrate Epiphany on January 17th instead of the 6th.

Is Jordan’s Day a bank holiday?

Although Bulgaria has many official holidays tied to the Orthodox Church, Iordanov Den, or Epiphany, is surprisingly not one of them.

While it is celebrated like a holiday, complete with religious services, many people still have to work.

Does your culture celebrate Epiphany like this? Would you venture in the freezing water for Iordanov Den?

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