Reuters International

Orthodox faithful jump to catch a wooden crucifix during Epiphany day celebrations in the southern suburb of Faliro in Athens, Greece. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

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LONDON (Reuters) - Swimmers across Europe marked the Epiphany feast day on Friday by diving into icy waters to retrieve wooden crosses as part of a range of Christian celebrations to mark the end of the Christmas season.

The crosses, blessed by priests beforehand, are believed to bring good luck for the year to those who retrieve them, with swimmers following the tradition throughout Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and other locations.

In Turkey, Christians in Istanbul dived into the Golden Horn waters to grab the cross amid increased security after a gunman killed 39 New Year's revellers inside a popular nightclub.

Temperatures fell to minus 8 degrees Celsius (17F) in Prague where Czech swimmers swam under the Charles Bridge to mark the day, while men dressed as the three kings rode on horseback in a reenactment of the nativity scene.

In other parts of Europe, drier methods marked the Epiphany, the biblical story of three wise men who follow a star as they travel from the East to find the baby Jesus.

In Germany, children dressed up as wise men in colourful robes and gold crowns to sing carols for President Joachim Gauck outside the presidential palace in Berlin.

Heavy snow in Bavaria, in the south of the country, helped provide a picturesque backdrop for the annual horned sled race, where more than 80 teams battled it out to record the fastest time over the 1-km (0.6-mile) ice track.

(Writing by Patrick Johnston in LONDON; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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