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The L Street Brownies New Year's Day Swimis a popular annual tradition in South Boston during which hundreds of “polar bears” go for a swim in the icy cold waters of Boston’s Dorchester Bay. The event takes place on New Year’s Day and is one of Boston’s oldest traditions to ring in the New Year.
The L Street Brownies New Year's Day Swim was first officially held in 1904 and drew in many swimmers and spectators. The event was first introduced by a number of European immigrants who are fond of alternating icy cold water dips and hot sauna or steam baths. The L Street Brownies are the second-oldest polar bear and cold-weather swimming club in America after the Coney Island Polar Bears of New York. Many believe that the cold water swimming goes back to 1888, and some trace it back to as far as 1965, but it wasn’t until 1902 that the L Street Brownies were recognized as an organization.
The L Street Brownies were named after the L Street Beach where they liked to swim and the name brownies refers back to brownish skin that the members developed from lying in the sun so much. They then began gathering every year to plunge into the water and the amount of participation has increased from year to year, currently reaching over 700 plungers annually. The L Street Brownies New Year's Day Swim features swimmers wearing everything from skimpy bikinis, boxer shorts, speed bathing suits, swimming trunks, wetsuits and even outrageous costumes.
Until 1980, the L Street Brownies New Year's Day Swim was only open to men. It is now open to the public and is free to participate in, although donations are encouraged. Donations and proceeds from the sale of snacks, hot chocolate and t-shirts go to support high school seniors who are South Boston residents, through the South Boston Sports Hall of Fame Scholarship Fund.
The L Street Brownies New Year's Day Swim is organized in the early morning between 8 am and 11 am, depending on the high tide. Registration for the swim is available at the Boston Centers for Youth & Family's Curley Community Center located on 1663 Columbia Road in South Boston. For an official L St Brownie membership card, a $1 donation must be made. The Curley Center is also the main organizer and host of the event. The swim takes place at the K Street entrance of the Curley Center.
The L Street Brownies New Year's Day Swim is very popular with Boston residents who come to either swim or cheer on the participants. There are also dozens of newspaper reporters and television and radio crews. Every year the swim is dedicated to past or deceased Brownie members and takes place after a rowdy “5,4,3,2,1” countdown. Besides the hundreds of swimmers and spectators, millions of Bostonians and people from across the country and the world also watch the Polar Bear plunge live on their TV screens every year.