Winter in New England is not for the faint of heart. Ice, snow, frigid cold temperatures and a biting wind require residents of the region to steel themselves against sometimes ferocious weather. Shoveling sidewalks and driveways and trudging into the office through the wind tunnels created by the city skyscrapers can be a miserable experience.
For some us, though, the winter snow and freezing temperatures magically transforms our landscape — unlocking a winter wonderland of outdoor recreation. We can’t wait to head for the mountains to ski or slap on a pair of skates to glide, or more often, bump along the frozen lakes and ponds. And there is nothing more exciting than flying down the backyard hills on sleds and saucers with your kids holding on for dear life.
But the holidays also bring out the most peculiar of New England winter traditions – the Polar Bear Plunge. In the coming week, tens of thousands of New Englanders will take to beaches across the region en masse on Christmas and New Years Day for an invigorating dip in the ocean. Why? Well, according to Bernaar MacFadden, the founder of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club, which claims to be the oldest “winter bathing” organization in the United States, swimming in the ocean in the wintertime is “a boon to one’s stamina, virility and immunity.”
I suppose a plunge into 45 degrees Fahrenheit water (and that’s what the sea surface temperature currently is registering at the Jeffrey’s Ledge weather buoy in the Gulf of Maine), might have a way of making you feel alive, but the true health benefits of shocking your system are up for debate. Some doctors advise caution before taking a winter swim, as the rush of adrenaline caused by the coldwater plunge can cause hyperventilation and irregular heart rhythms.
But that doesn’t stop the South Boston’s L Street Brownies who have been jumping into the ocean off Carson Beach every New Year’s Day since 1904, after one member reportedly posed the simple question, “Why don’t we go for a swim?” Whatever the risk, communities up and down the New England coast will flock to the seaside, run and jump wildly in and out of the ocean and once again celebrate sea no matter what the season. Why not go for a swim? Happy holidays to all!