Considered the largest Epiphany celebration in the Western Hemisphere, commemorating the baptism of Jesus Christ, the Tarpon Springs event traditionally draws more than 20,000 spectators. The archbishop casts a white cross into the waters of Spring Bayou and nearly 70 young men jump from boats in a competition to retrieve it. The center of the celebration is St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
6:40 a.m. Public welcome, no restrictions
People are up and preparing for the start of the day’s Epiphany celebration at 8 a.m. in Tarpon Springs.
Epiphany was celebrated last January under COVID-19 restrictions, but this year anyone can attend and no masks are required. Mask mandates have been lifted by the Direct Archdiocesan District of the Greek Orthodox church, which directs members to follow state and local health and safety guidelines.
That means no restrictions on how many people crowd St. Nicholas cathedral and the banks of Spring Bayou. Organizers were wondering whether attendance will return to re-pandemic levels.
“This year is like a breath of fresh air,” spokesperson and organizer Johanna Gatzoulis said. “After such a horrible year with COVID, everyone is just so excited to have something to celebrate and so thankful we’re able to do so without restrictions.”
One feature of the celebration missing again this year is Glendi — a day-long festival of Greek dancing, music and food. Scrapped last year because of the pandemic, this year’s Glendi was canceled because there weren’t enough volunteers.
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6:30 a.m.: Cool weather, chilly water in forecast
Forecasts call for a temperature of about 60 in Tarpon Springs for 8 a.m. and the start of the day’s Epiphany celebration in Tarpon Springs. It should warm to 69 by mid-day, when teen boys jump into Spring Bayou to retrieve the white cross.
The boys can expect the same chilly temperature in the water — 69 degrees. There’s no rain in the forecast during daylight hours Thursday.
The festivities begin at 8 a.m. with the morning service known as Orthros at St. Nicholas cathedral, 36 N Pinellas Ave., followed by a liturgy at 9 a.m. and the blessing of the waters.