A Ritual for the New Year

burn the past

I’ve grown up with many traditions related to welcoming in the new year.  It’s best to eat black eyed peas and turnip greens for money and luck.  I wouldn’t think of doing laundry on New Year’s Day so I don’t wash someone out of my life.  Same with sweeping–can’t be done on that day.  I like to kiss someone on New Year’s Eve at midnight, because whatever you’re doing at that moment is what you’ll be doing the rest of the year.

A few years ago, I started my own ritual for New Year’s Eve. It’s a tangible, visible way to leave the past in the past and draw a clear line between the past and the future, right at that moment when we mark the start of a new year.

In the evening, I gather a stack of paper and a nice pen.  On each slip of paper, I write one thing that I want to say goodbye to from the old year.  Maybe a fear, a regret, a mistake, a poisonous relationship or a bad habit.  Write it out, fold it up, and stack it in a pile.

Once I’ve made my stack of farewells, I start a nice fire in the fireplace and pour a hot toddy.  When the fire is going and my insides are glowing, I throw the whole pile into the flames and watch it go up.  GOODBYE.

Call it corny if you will, but I feel some sense of empowerment from doing this ritual.  Just as gratitude becomes more concrete when I write it down, the separation from the negative things in my life becomes more concrete when I watch them turn from paper to ash.  When the negative stuff is burned up, THEN I’m ready to write out my resolutions!

The first year I did this ritual, I kept a special paper box on my dresser and slipped notes into it over a matter of months.  Didn’t have a fireplace that year, so I burned it all up on a cookie sheet on the deck–that was a little worrisome!  But it felt good.

The next year, Fartbuster and I did the ritual together.  We sat before the fireplace making out our slips.  At one point, he looked up and said, “Are we going to read these out loud?”  I assured him that we weren’t going to share them.  He scribbled something and folded it up tight.  I’m pretty sure it was the affair that he wrote on that slip.  Well, THAT didn’t go as expected!

hot-chocolateThe year Richard was in the hospital, I had been up to be with him for Christmas, so I was home alone for New Year’s Eve.  Being alone stunk.  New Year’s Eve had been our adventure time.  The previous three years, we had celebrated the new year in Delft, Munich, and Bermuda.  So yeah…pppffffffft.  That first slip was easy to write:  CANCER.  After that, I had a hard time.  It had been a horrible year, but I still had hope.  I still believed that if we could just get rid of that stupid leukemia, everything else would be great.  So I threw cancer on the fire and drank my hot chocolate with Bailey’s.  And I cried until I felt a little better.  

Rituals aren’t magic.  They only carry the power that we invest in them.  This one feels good.  If you’ve got some things you want to say goodbye to in 2013, give it a try!  

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