Turning Traditions Into Tales: How the First Polar Bear Swim in Scotland Came to Be!

Every year for the past 15 plus years or more, it has been my tradition, along with 1000’s of others and a handful of brave friends, to take the plunge, the Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day.

Here in Vancouver it usually takes place at English Bay. This year, it went virtual and avid polar bears were encouraged to dip in family groups at socially distanced venues in bathtubs, backyard pools and fish ponds…

For the 101stVancouver Polar Bear swim, though we could not host our usual party, some of the ‘guests’ that showed up were truly magical! We met a Scotsman, an astronaut and the Loch Ness Monster. Together we broke the ice on ‘Loch Ness’ in North Vancouver and jumped in! We improvised.

Every year, I dress up. Last year I was Flamingo Lady and sported a pink boa, a pink bouffont wig, a large inflatable pool flamingo, pink flamingo glasses and a pink boa. My mom and dad participated too as Snowflake and Elvis. There are Vikings, penguins, clowns and princesses that show up in full garb! 

This year I wasn’t sure what to dress up as, what character to be. Recently my writer friends have been encouraging me to draw on my own culture and experience. I do have Scottish ancestry and am always present for the PB swim…so why not create characters around that? 

The story of how the first polar bear swim in Scotland came to be was born on a stormy, rainy, dark morning, nestled under my cosy duvet, my hands wrapped around a warm cup of coffee. I had Loch Ness Monster hats and Scottish tams in my Tickle Trunk from our trip to Scotland. I had a kilt and a Scottish looking scarf. When I went to find them (and I had just seen them before Christmas), they were nowhere to be found. So, as you can see, we improvised

We did our traditional pre-photo shoot…and though I did not plan for an astronaut to show up, our youngest dipper came dressed in full space gear for his inaugural dip! We made a quick few alterations to the story, added a historical reference to breaking the ice with swords and went live to the backyard splash pool! 

The result? A HUGE amount of fun! A tsunami of splashing! An improvised sword fight! Stuttering and sputtering! And the possibility that this improvised, unlikely story may very well turn up in a picture book in 2021! 

Lessons to be embraced this year…be willing to improvise (it can be fun and lead to unexpected twists and turns in your story!) Play! Place unusual characters together and see what happens! Be true to you and your experience, draw on it! See where it goes! And above all…dive right in! 

Happy writing and Happy New Year everyone! Special thanks to my family who hosted this smallest of swims and congrats to the young astronaut who says this is now his tradition too!

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