Annual St Stephen's Day swim in the Vltava

Hardy Swimmers, photo CTK

For most people in the country Christmas is a time when they like to feel cosy and warm at home, snuggle up in front of the TV and munch on Christmas cookies. If they really have to go out, then they make sure they wrap up good and warm. This is certainly not true for a group of enthusiasts who meet in Prague every Christmas for a swim in the Vltava river. Pavla Horakova went down to the river to report.

Hardy Swimmers,  photo CTK
"I'm standing here on Prague's Zofin Island on the Vltava river just next to the National Theatre. It's now 11 am and it's Saint Stephen's Day which means the 26th of December or the second Christmas Day as some people call it here in the Czech Republic. There are a lot of people here standing on the nearby bridge and on the embankments, watching. What's going on is the annual swim for the hardy people in the Vltava river. Many of the participants are far from young, there's one woman who's here for the 31st time and an old gentleman who has come every year for the past 50 years, he's 88 now."

Possibly thousands of people came to watch the one hundred and thirteen men and women who came to the river island on Wednesday for a swim in the cold and not so clean water of the Vltava. Czech "hardy swimmers" and their brave friends from Germany, Belgium and Slovakia came to dive into the river in the historic city centre. The temperature was 1.8 above zero degrees Celsius and the temperature of the water was about the same. As the hardy men and women waited on the bank only in their swimsuits and with no sign of goose-pimples, I tried to stop my teeth from clattering and asked one of the swimmers how long he had been coming to the Christmas swim and whether he thought his hobby was good for his health.

"Since 1963 I've come almost every year and I do it just for the fun of it, my family support me, everybody in our family is a bit crazy. Is it good for the health? Well, that's what the experts say - I myself am healthy. Health problems from the cold water? No way!"

The tradition of Saint Stephen's Day swimming goes back 55 years. The competition is organized by the Hardy Swimmers' Club from Prague, the oldest such club in the country. Before the beginning of the event the organizers mentioned that so far six Czechs have swum across the English Channel and that many of them started their sports careers as members of Hardy Swimmers clubs. This year's conqueror of the English Channel, Dana Zborilova, certainly did not miss the opportunity and came to Prague to enjoy her Saint Stephen's Swim too.