Ring in the New Year in Birch Bay

Fire_SG-4By Steve Guntli

Two favorite Birch Bay traditions are returning this month to close out the old year and ring in the new.

The Ring of Fire and Hope and the Polar Bear Plunge are back-to-back Birch Bay festivals on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, respectively.

The Ring of Fire and Hope, starting at 7 p.m. on December 31, allows visitors and residents the chance to light up the bay. Each year, people gather along the coastline from Birch Bay State Park to Birch Bay Village and light bright red road flares. The display is meant to symbolize hope for the coming year. People also gather around bonfires near the water and release flying luminaria lanterns over the bay.

Free flares, donated by Windermere realtor Mike Kent, will be available at the Birch Bay Visitor Information Center at 7900 Birch Bay Drive on a first come, first served basis starting at 5:30 p.m. The Birch Bay Chamber of Commerce warns that the flares run out quickly, but additional flares can be purchased at Pacific Building Supply at 2677 Bell Road. Flares are also usually available at marine and auto parts stores.

Flares must be spikeless (meaning they can’t have sharp tines on the bottom to anchor them to the ground), and should last between 15 and 30 minutes.

Early the next morning, leap into 2016 with the Birch Bay Polar Bear Plunge. Started in 1982 as a dare, the plunge attracts hundreds of visitors each year who celebrate the New Year by diving into the icy Birch Bay waters.

Participants are encouraged to wear costumes to compete for prizes. This year, divers can win prizes in one of five categories: most years plunging, oldest participant, best individual costume, best group costume and farthest distance traveled to participate. No awards are given for length of time spent in the water, so there is no need to get hypothermic.

After the plunge, gather at the future site of the Birch Bay Beach Park to warm up.

The Polar Bear Plunge is free, and the chamber encourages visitors to register on birchbaychamber.com to ensure they’ll receive their official “I Took The Plunge” certificates and hot beverages. Registration must be completed by 10 a.m. on January 1. T-shirts will be available for purchase.

Costumes will be judged at 11:30 a.m. on January 1, and the plunge itself will take place at noon. For more information, visit birchbaychamber.com.

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