For the past several years, MayBelle and one of her dearest friends in the world have gathered on the Winter Solstice to unburden themselves of what they need to let go of from the preceding year, and offer up what they dream about for the 365 days ahead of them. Her friend, having gone to sleep-away camp many more years than MayBelle, gets a fire going in the fire pit in her backyard, and they each take turns adding twigs and small pieces of wood to keep it glowing. Throughout the year they’ve written words and phrases—maybe a few paragraphs if the topic is something especially hairy—on small bits of paper, which they can read aloud if they so choose before adding them to the flames. The two—who’ve been through a whole lot of life together—then sit in silence and inhale the smoke. Go where the Spirit takes them. They are the kind of friends who can do that, sit without speaking.
Who knows what each of them is thinking?
As for MayBelle, she was happy to let go of an awkward encounter or two and an especially regrettable misunderstanding. A few grammatically incorrect phrases. The calls she didn’t make. The notes she meant to send. For good measure, she burned up some shame, a few 2022 resolutions that never took hold, and a ream of unnecessary worry. On the upside, she’s looking forward to crafting some well-placed words, banging on her new hand drum, and helping people share their stories, her favorite thing. Reduced to ash, she trusts, are the need for approval, the cravings for carbs, and the constant questioning of enough-ness.
There is usually a poem (or two) involved in the friends’ ritual. This year they read Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Burning the Old Year.”
As they say goodbye to their worries, regrets, and burdens, they also give thanks. As they utter aloud their goals for the future, they give thanks. For what was, and what will be. There might be a few tears, and always some words of encouragement and congratulations for having made it through another year mostly intact. Always there is warmth, and wonder, and hope.
What rituals do you have for transitioning into a new year?
Burning the Old Year
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.