We all need rituals in our lives, and one that has been developing over our time in St Leonards is the Christmas Day swim from the beach – next to groyne 41 behind the Azur Marina Pavilion. I don’t know exactly when it started but we’ve been going as a family for the past five years, sometimes taking part and sometimes not. The actual swimming seems to attract women more than men and following the trend, I’ve only actually been swimming once – and that was in a wetsuit – while my wife, daughter and stepdaughter have been several times.

There’s always been a sense of occasion, often with hot drinks and food provided by generous individuals or groups and sometimes live music, with a real sense of community spirit that seems to pop up out of nowhere. 

I hesitated this year, put off by the dull weather and not wishing to hurry the big family breakfast we have on Christmas morning – currently a four-generation get-together – but was eventually persuaded as my wife, daughter and two grandchildren were leaving the house. And I’m so glad I went.

CREDIT: Kathy Bor

It was very different this year. Probably spurred on by limited opportunities to get together over the last couple of years, the beach was full of people, some swimming, some about to swim and some chatting in lively groups, experiencing the exhilaration of the cold water, either in person or vicariously. It reminded me of the fantasy scenes played out in films and on TV – or perhaps just in A Christmas Carol – where people spontaneously gather outside on Christmas Day in ‘a happy throng’, all rosy cheeks and smiling faces. 

Experiencing a sense of togetherness on a cold beach in the depths of winter seems to work wonders. Long may it continue.

For those who like sea swimming all year round see  Facebook groups Hastings and St Leonards Azur Swimmers
or the St Leonards Blue Tits

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