Ah, Christmas. Breakfast amongst the wreckage of discarded wrapping paper opened boxes and the inevitable putting together – at great length and with many glasses of alcohol – of the children’s toys followed by far too much food, the Queen’s Speech, more alcohol and bed.
But not for some. Some people – amateurs, enthusiasts, plain crazy people strip down to their Speedos and head for the nearest coast, where they throw caution (and possibly curses) to the wind and plunge into the sea for a swim. Some of them are in fancy dress. All of them emerge blue with cold and strangely exhilarated. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of the British Christmas Day Swim.
Where access to the sea is restricted, lakes, rivers, and lids are used, an example being the Serpentine River in Hyde Park in London. Here, the Peter Pan Cup Race – a handicap one hundred yard dash – has been held every Christmas Day since 1864, when the author of the classic children’s book J M Barrie first presented the Cup to the winner.
The point to the Christmas Day swim, it appears, is to make participants as cold as possible by forcing them to swim outdoors in unheated water. In Cornwall, for instance, some swim events such as that held in Polzeath forbid the use of wetsuits but do provide hot chocolate laced with brandy for the survivors. So it’s not all bad.
Safety and OrganizationIn Brighton, the Christmas Day swim is a tradition stretching back decades but in 2011, the event was canceled due to treacherous tides when a drowning man had to be rescued by other swimmers. After this Brighton Council issued a statement advising people not to head into the water after tides of 6.4 meters were predicted. This highlights the safety issues faced not just by the swimmers but the councils and organizing bodies.
Tides, high surf, and storms can all seem very exciting to swim in, but with water and air temperatures reaching their lowest around Christmas, great care must be taken and the warnings of event organizers heeded.
As mentioned, some events forbid swimmers from wearing wetsuits and in these cases, the signs of distress due to cold should be watched for, particularly in those who may have started celebrating Christmas the day before and are feeling somewhat delicate. Whilst a bracing swim is perfect for chasing away hangovers, those with alcohol still in their bloodstreams should take extra special care and avoid being too far out of their depth.
Where to SwimChristmas Day swims take place all around the country, from London to Cornwall, Porthcawl to Dublin to Aberdeen. If you wish to take part, first find a location where the swims take place and get in touch with the organizers. You can search for them online and most have websites. If not, local councils, especially if they are involved in organizing the event, will have the information you need.
Some, like the Serpentine Christmas Day swim, are only open to members of the Serpentine swimming club, whereas others – the big coastal events – are open to all.Swim LengthSome swims have particular distances – hundred yards, or fifty meters – and others are simply about encouraging people to jump in and splash around for ten or fifteen minutes.
Be sure you know which type of swim you are attending. There’s nothing worse than paddling through the midst of people in a serious race!Remember to take some warm clothes and a flask of something hot for after your swim, then congratulate yourself on being completely insane and head home for that turkey.