We take a look at this offbeat New Year’s tradition, and how it all began.
Ah, the Polar Bear Plunge. For those unfamiliar with this New Year’s Day tradition, here’s the gist: crowds of people across the world line up in towels and robes to start the year off with a shock, jumping into the ocean, or though a hole in the ice that covers the local lake. The payoff? Some say it bolsters the immune system, some say it gets them in the right headspace to tackle the challenges of the New Year. Regardless of the motivation, it’s a tradition that has kept its strange allure for generations.
In the US, this tradition officially began in the early 1900s with the L Street Brownies in Boston, and the Coney Island Polar Bear Club in Brooklyn. This first-hand account of the 1905 Boston plunge paints a picture:
“A number of sturdy men in bathing trunks are playing on the ice, some of them having skates attached to their bare feet and others playing hand-ball. After their exercise, they run along the shore, upon which ice hummocks are piled high and plunge from the end of the ice-covered pier into the freezing waters of the bay.”
These days, the tradition reaches far beyond these hardcore winter swimmers. Annual Polar Plunges are held in multiple US cities, Canada, the Netherlands, the UK, New Zealand, South Korea, and Antarctica. So, whether you decide to take the plunge, or you’re more of a beachside spectator, we’re wishing all of you good health and a very happy New Year.