There is a tradition here in Portugal that on the first of January people will go to the beach for the first swim of the year.
While the tradition does have a historical root in people going to make spiritual promises and ask the saints for favor in the new year, that is no longer the case. In fact, many years ago our teammate, Roberto, decided to go and take a look to see if it was a morning of people making sacrifices to the saints. He found out it is rare to see anyone doing that. Portugal has become, and is, a highly secularized society so the spiritual side of the tradition has faded into the past. You may see one or two people doing this, (I saw one person this year throwing flowers into the sea) but most can’t even tell you how the tradition got started.
These days people go with friends, family or clubs for the fun and experience of the “polar plunge.” There’s nothing spiritual about it but rather it is just a fun time. Some people, making the experience more interesting, wear bathing suits from the early 1900s.
You may be wondering if it isn’t cold? Yes, the air is cold, as is the water. That’s why I previously referred to it as a polar plunge.
Each year a group from our church goes to “swim in the New Year”. This year Esperansa and Petterson’s (our teammate) daughter joined us as well. There were hundreds of people on the beach where we went.
Afterwards we headed to Eloiza’s, a church member who goes to take pictures but does not swim, house for hot drinks and a snack! Actually, if I am honest, I think she goes to laugh at me and my reactions. You see I don’t enjoy the cold; I rarely even enter the ocean in mid-summer. For me, the water is so cold that it makes any submurged part of my body goes quickly numb. It takes my breath away and makes my bones ache!
But I go because it is about the experience and identifying with the people to whom God has asked us to give our life serving.
That’s the challenge. How can we identify with those around us? How can we build relationships? How can we invest in people so that one day they can ask us questions about our faith? What about you? How are you identifying with those around you so they will eventually ask about your faith?
Enjoy the pictures!