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Even a pandemic couldn’t stop New Year’s Day traditions in Boston

Social distancing, masks mark smaller gatherings

(left to right) Kelly Hansen, Meg Crowley, Lauren Gates and Moe Dewar emerged from the water after a quick dip at Carson Beach in Boston on Friday morning.
(left to right) Kelly Hansen, Meg Crowley, Lauren Gates and Moe Dewar emerged from the water after a quick dip at Carson Beach in Boston on Friday morning.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

New Year’s Day dawned bright and feeling downright balmy. The air and water temperature were in the low 40s — not too bad for those who wanted to christen 2021 with a quick dip into the cold ocean.

The L Street Brownies canceled its epic plunge into Dorchester Bay this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, a brave few would not be denied their yearly swim off of South Boston’s famous beaches.

“It’s a good way to clean off last year and start a new one,” said Kelly Hansen, 36, of Cambridge, who arrived at Carson Beach with three friends just before sunrise.

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As sure as swimmers took the plunge, other New Year’s Day traditions couldn’t be stopped.

At the stroke of midnight, Monroe O’Hare was born at Boston Medical Center, making her Boston’s first baby of the new year. She weighed 6 pounds, 6 ounces, and soon posed for a picture with her parents, Lauren and Chris. Other newborns arrived around 3 a.m. at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, according to a spokesperson.

In Brookline and Newton, Greek residents held their traditional New Year’s caroling event known as Kalanda. Instead of visiting homes, about 60 people gathered over Zoom to sing traditional carols and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the event, which raises money for the Hellenic Cardiac Fund at Children’s Hospital.

“It was great to have so many people, some old some young, recalling the start of the event 40 years ago. And to be able to see each other 40 years later, now with their own kids, helping such a worthy cause,” said Manny Paraschos of Newton, who helped organize this year’s event.

(Left to right) Kelly Hansen, Meg Crowley, Lauren Gates, and Moe Dewar ran into the water for  a quick dip at Carson Beach in Boston on Friday.
(Left to right) Kelly Hansen, Meg Crowley, Lauren Gates, and Moe Dewar ran into the water for a quick dip at Carson Beach in Boston on Friday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

In South Boston, Hansen’s New Year’s tradition of jumping into icy cold water doesn’t quite date back decades. She first participated five or six years ago following through on a hasty decision made after a conversation with friends at a bar on New Year’s Eve.

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On Friday, Hansen joined friends Meg Crowley, Lauren Gates, and Moe Dewar for a quick dip at Carson Beach. Two others were doing their own dive and there were a few people watching on land, she said.

The scene was a stark contrast to prior years on South Boston’s beaches, where hundreds of people, many dressed in costumes and crazy New Year’s glasses, participated in a polar plunge that dates back more than a century.

Kelly Hansen wore a silver sequined jacket for a quick dip in the water with friends at Carson Beach in Boston on Friday.
Kelly Hansen wore a silver sequined jacket for a quick dip in the water with friends at Carson Beach in Boston on Friday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

This year, the friends took the precaution of driving separately to the beach and wearing masks. The air temperature was about 40 degrees and the water 41 degrees around sunrise, according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s terribly cold, but the adrenaline hits and warms you up for a few minutes,” Hansen said.

Others enjoyed the first day of 2021 at the M Street Beach.

McKenna Kelemanik and Peter Briggs emerged from the water at M Street Beach in Boston after a quick dip on Friday.
McKenna Kelemanik and Peter Briggs emerged from the water at M Street Beach in Boston after a quick dip on Friday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Laurie Craigen, of the L Street Ice Swimmers, wore a squid hat after taking a dip at M Street Beach in Boston on Friday.
Laurie Craigen, of the L Street Ice Swimmers, wore a squid hat after taking a dip at M Street Beach in Boston on Friday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Melrose friends Garrett Collins, 22, J.P. Bulman, 21, and Jacob Russett, 22, and another pal, Molly Desrochers, 21, of Wethersfield, Conn., also took their annual polar plunge.

They arrived mid-morning, around 10 a.m. There were just a few other groups around.

“I didn’t even know it was canceled,” Collins said of the Brownies’ swim. “We just kind of showed up and went right in.”

Correspondent Adam Sennott contributed to this story.

 Jacob Russett and J.P. Bulman charged into the water at M Street Beach.
Jacob Russett and J.P. Bulman charged into the water at M Street Beach.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff
Nora Shanahan, of Braintree, raised her arms in triumph after diving into the water at M Street Beach.
Nora Shanahan, of Braintree, raised her arms in triumph after diving into the water at M Street Beach.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Sofia Saric can be reached at sofia.saric@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @sofia_saric.