Out With The Old

When I was a kid, Summer Solstice (just about – there might be some day’s slippage) was celebrated as St. John’s.

This is, to put it mildly, a very odd festival where I come from.  For one, huge bonfires are built everywhere, and jumping over the bonfires together seems to have some resonance of marriage – or did, once upon a time.  For another, possibly because there is so much contact with England, some bits of the Guy Fawkes thing have bled through.  To wit, for St. John’s kids build nativities outside (This is not so much nativity, as entire scenes.  Some of us, born ambitious, would include mountains covered in moss to represent the entire hillside, and have also artesian water works. )  There are houses and things for this as well as the traditional figures of the nativity.  These are not the same figures or sets used at Christmas, but very cheaply modeled either red clay or plaster figurines.  Think of it as part railroad modeling and part nativity.  (Only I don’t think anyone ever had trains.  They were too expensive, toy trains, when I was a kid, to be left outside.  But the building of miniatural landscapes was there.)  In front of that nativity, you put a tin for tips (and no, the language doesn’t lend itself to “here’s a tip, kid, don’t go into architecture.”)  IF the adults didn’t pay attention (and here is the resemblance to Guy Fawke’s festival) you ran around with the statue of St. John clutched in your hand, yelling “A penny for the saint.”  (Well, more fortunate kids did.  I was informed by mom that it was not proper and we were NOT that badly off.  Meh.)

So, why am I talking about this on New Year’s eve?

Because it wasn’t until I started reading on myth (and I still do wonder how much of this was based on older rituals, how much cross-cultural contamination, how much bleed from Christmas (the nativity almost for sure) and how much “yes.”) that I realized the bonfires, and the burning of everything old was a way of clearing the slate, as it were, to start anew.

It must have worked like a charm in the village because all of us saved all the old cr*p that would burn (and burning, in those innocent days, was how we disposed of almost everything that wouldn’t rot) throughout the year, and the pile in the middle of the plaza (don’t go imagining anything very grand.  It was a huge beaten dirt expanse where two streets met) in front of grandma’s house, could climb to astonishing heights.  Or maybe it only seemed that way to me, when I was very, very small.  I do know that sometimes people were worried about the flames reaching the electrical wires, though.

Of course, most of the people in the village were so proper that I think the biggest shock in my life was when there was an earthquake and everyone ran out, realizing that the neighbors didn’t actually sleep in their full day clothes.

So there was none of that pagan singing and dancing.  Sometimes there was some singing, desultory, and sideways, but absolutely no dancing and certainly not of that fire-jumping stuff.  The kids played around as usual, glad to be allowed to stay up late, and the young people flirted, but the adults mostly treated it as a village social, standing around and talking.  (Weirdly, there was also conversation about some of the cr*p we were burning.  “Oh, that box of chocolates was good.  I wonder if uncle so and so will give us a new one this year.”  That sort of thing.)

And then everyone went and had a cup of coffee with milk (please don’t ask.  That and toast were traditional St. John’s food. There were songs about it.  No, I’m sure that wasn’t a survival of the Celtic rites.  Almost for sure.  Probably.  Not in this universe.) and went to bed after midnight, feeling very daring.  The next day life started up in the normal way, maybe with everyone a little slower and more morose due to the late night.  (Children, in the village we didn’t go to bed with the chickens.  The chickens wondered what was wrong with us we went to bed so early, normally.)  But something had changed.  After St. John’s we shifted to “summer mode.”

Well, we don’t do St. John’s here, and I live in Colorado.  As dry as it is, if I tried to burn anything at all, let alone the accumulated debris of an entire year, the police would be at my door before I was done making a pile of stuff.

Also, we don’t live in innocent times.  That box that contained the chocolates probably is full of carcinogenic dyes and will kill the wild life in a five mile circle, if we so much as hold it too long in a hot place.

But what remains is the memory that what we celebrated was a survival of a “new year’s” ritual, in the sense that it was an inflection point in the year.

We humans tend to hold on to all sorts of cr*p long after it’s no longer useful.  It’s the nature of the beast.  Habits, thoughts, ways of doing things that aren’t working, but are comfy and worn.

And then there is that illusory thing “luck.”  This year, in general has been “bad luck.”  Not terrible, but a sort of grinding annoyance and little things going wrong.  “Getting nibbled to death by ducks.”  Almost all of my friends had that sort of year, though some – overachievers – have topped it off with worse: job losses, major illnesses, or broken relationships.

Part of it is the economy, of course, throwing a pall over everything, but I’m almost sure that the economy can’t be blamed for the wild fires, the two bouts of death flu followed by the small bouts of minor flu and all the other “little stuff” – car break downs, flooded basement, etc — that made this year very bad for me to work in.

As much as we don’t want to believe in luck, we all do.  And as much as we don’t believe in luck, we all know sometimes it changes, and some things make it change.  It used to be if I was having a really bad run of luck, we’d go to Denver for the day, bum around, go out to eat, and then things would change.  (Sometimes they still do.)  Maybe all that changed was my mood, but things certainly went better after.

These rituals, these habits, these things, exist because life seems to work like that.  It doesn’t make any sense (which means I resent it) but life does seem to follow this type of thing.

So… just in case it works, and because the last year we were nibbled to death by ducks, let’s send the old year off with a bang (for me this means staying up past midnight.  I’m fairly sure the chickens still think I’m too early a bed-goer) and blowing on a little noise maker, then having a few teaspoons of champagne (it’s carby, you know?) with the kids, but hey, we all do what we can, right?

And mentally, I’ll be burning the flu, and the basement flood, and all the appliances that broke, and the car troubles.

Yes, of course the new year could be worse, but we won’t let it.  We’re going to change our luck for the better.

In the new year, there will be jobs and love and prosperity, even if we have to fight city hall to get it.

May all our fights be joyous, may all our troubles be so tiny we don’t notice it, may our health be as good as it can be, may there be enough money for everything we need, and a little left over for what we want, and may we be productive and merry in the new year.  May our luck change for the better tonight.


71 responses to “Out With The Old

  1. Hear!, hear! And maybe we should get rid of those meddlesome, nibbling ducks?

    A wondrous New Year to all the Hoyts 🙂

  2. Happy New Year, Sarah, and to all the lurkers, commenters, and anyone else who wanders in. May the year be filled with blessings, may everything keep working as it should, and may the world suddenly decide it can’t live without your books.

  3. Burning pieces of paper that have “death flu” written on them, or whatever other negative thing, might be a great tradition to start. I think Instapundit linked a story about a study that said that writing something on paper and throwing it away actually helped people feel better. He said… what about a blog post? But I think that would be completely different, like putting the negative thing in a frame on the wall instead of in the trash (or burning it.)

    Of course, I suppose, burning wishes would work, too, in the manner of prayers or something.

    When I grew up we burned all our trash. They didn’t have garbage pick up in the country back then. We had a “dump” on the farm and every so often my mom would start it on fire. (I think we only had the volunteer fire department out once to put it out.) And there’s always a bonfire or two every summer at the lake. The last one I was at my mom decided to burn a chair she had wanted to get rid of. It was made before they discovered flame retardant foam padding and the fire ball it made was truly terrifying.

  4. Happy New Year, Sarah!

  5. Well said! I liked Oleg Volk’s wish – may 2013 be so dull and uneventful that it is not mentioned in history books.

    To quote from a story: The clock began striking twelve and the five friends raised their glasses. “To the new year and a new start. May both be clear as crystal and bright as gold,” General Joschka Graf von Hohen-Drachenburg proposed.

    The others met his glass. “To the new year!”

  6. The New Year– 2013
    Since I haven’t been able to drink champagne since 2003, I ask you to lift a glass for me–

    May all your creative endeavors be successful. May you make enough money to live comfortably. And, may the New Year bring joy.

  7. May a year and its curses end, and a year and its blessings begin (sorry, that sounds better in Hebrew).

  8. Yup, definitely been a nibbled-to-death-by-ducks year, personally – sickness, major house repairs, death of a much-loved pet I’d had for all my adult life (birds live a long time). I hope for better things in 2013.

    But there have been a few good things this year. Finding this blog, for me, has been one of them. Thank you, and thanks to everyone who posts in the comments. What a terrific, intelligent, competent group of people. It certainly helped me make it through the year.

    Here’s to a better 2013!

  9. Festa Junina in January? I can work with that. 🙂

    “[S]ome – overachievers – have topped it off with worse: job losses, major illnesses, or broken relationships.”

    I just squeaked under the wire (the 27th) to make it two, count them two job losses this year. Hooray for out-of-state beancounters! But you’re right: we’re going to kick the world’s butt this coming year. I still have a wonderful wife and amazing children, I’ll find a way to pay my bills, the Academy will launch, and my legions of mentally-augmented ninja ferrets will- wait, that part is classified. Sorry. 🙂

  10. I’d like a six-pack of ninja ferrets, please. Ship to my work address. My boss keeps failing to authorize my request for a tazer, so I guess we’re going to have to go organic or something. They do respond to voice commands, yes?

    A while ago in some dingy import shop in Vancouver BC I found some really, truly ancestor money. It is MUCH prettier than any mortal currency. I wrote things I’d like to get rid of on it and burned it (it burned pretty too). I figure any of my bribable ancestors who feel like causing trouble (probably all of them) will take things from there.

    Happy New Year to all, and brace for the Human Wave!

    • Sabrina, get a twelve-pack of ninja ferrets and I’ll pay for the shipping.

      • I offer bulk discount, Red, if you want some for yourself. Additional discounts are available if you promise to use them on Communists, Congresscritters, and other vermin control. >:D

        • Ah, but do you offer invisible attack rabbits with them?

          • We do not currently offer any lagomorphic product lines. For a modest deposit we will let you know when they are available, as they are currently *frantically scribbles a memo to R&D* under development.

            We do have some entry-level stealth technology for you though! Simply apply this device *hefts a small brick* to the back of the head of any surveillance personnel, and your ferrets or rabbits will pass undetected.

            • Do the ninja ferrets come equipped with swords and stars; or are those sold seperately? If so possibly they could be included as an incentive in bulk orders.

  11. Happy New Year to you and yours! This blog has been a great cheer to me as I’ve dealt with the post-election blues.

  12. Happy new year’s celebration, everyone 🙂 I’m deep-frying balls of dough, and apple slices dipped in dough tonight, to the great pleasure of the in-laws you eat them with powdered sugar and cinnamon (it’s a Dutch old year’s tradition – what we call the 31st). Also, the baby turned 1 week today, so yays all around.

  13. Happy New Year to all (as one of the overachievers Sarah mentioned…) May the year we’re leaving behind be the worst one we ever have.

  14. Cheers! And everyone drive safely, if you must drive at all!

  15. Hmmm, just put my mother on an airplane back to California … she’s going to think this post was about her …

  16. In high school, I taught the little kid (3 year old) Sunday school. They adopted a little set of Christmas candles and developed their own closing ritual — light the candles, hold hands, and walk around the candles singing a sing. Skip it, and they were very upset. I was glad my co-teacher was the associate pastor.

    Some of the pieces of ritual are very deep inside of us, I think.

  17. Here’s wishing everyone in the accordingtohoyt virtual family a Happy and Prosperous 2013.

  18. Can you get a new pet to eat those ducks? 😀

    • Well, in the Asian calendar (starting about Feb?) this will be the year of the snake, which… eats ducks. YES!

      • Oh, blast, I’m going to be writing “Year of the Dragon” on my checks deep into April, you’ll see.

      • lol– well I was born in the year of the Ox. Ox and Snake are supposed to be good together– I hope so – crossing my fingers…

        And about rituals, my father gave me a bunny’s foot as a good luck charm when I was about 8 or 9. I carried that thing with me for years and would rub it when I was scared. It really made feel better. I don’t know where the foot is now though–

        • Cyn, about that lucky bunny’s foot: the bunny had four of them, and look what happened to him! 8^)

          As for me, I have a piece of sandstone I keep on my desk at all times, and pick up and play with now and then. It’s a gizzard stone for a medium-sized dinosaur, perhaps a velociraptor or something that size. I don’t rub it for luck, but if push comes to shove, I can hit a person in the face with it at anywhere from 20 feet to 150 feet away. Of course, the dinosaurs weren’t even as lucky as that rabbit — only their bones were preserved, and only from a tiny number of them, at that.

          • well lucky for me– we had rabbit soup the day it died. 😉 It also reminds me that I should be grateful for what I eat– Lucky I am not on the bottom of the food chain.

            BTW I read your Wizard novel– very interesting

            • Saying “Very interesting” to a writer is like telling a plumber you’re glad the water level in the basement is finally going down… damning with faint praise! I’m currently writing a sequel to it, just for you! 8^)

              • Well – I really liked the world, I wasn’t too happy with the marriage laws with the Church (too controlling), very interested with MAGE, and I couldn’t put the book down (I think it was Wizard of Skye). So when I say very interesting I am not damning– Plus when I say NICE, it means accurate and precise– I am trying to rehabilitate nice and interesting because they are good serviceable words. 😉

                • Interesting is a VERY serviceable word, it can have so MANY meanings depending on context and intonation. 😉

                  • Yes– you can’t go wrong with interesting lol
                    Interesting– (looking at someone intently)
                    Interesting–(smirk on face)
                    Interesting–(question at the end)

                    and so forth lol

                    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

                      Or “fun” (or “fun and games”). [Wink]

                    • Heh. I tend to use ‘interesting’ on those occasions when it could be continued with ‘how the hell am I going to get out of this…’. But yes, good word.

                      And Happy New Year, to everybody!

    • Wayne Blackburn

      I guess dragons must not do well with ducks. I was born in the year of the dragon, and this past year has been one of the worst for duck nibbling. If it weren’t for my father, I don’t know where i would be today.

  19. Happy New Year!!!!!!!

  20. Happy New Year, my friends. I hope to meet many of you in the near to medium term future. Blessings to you and yourn, and congratulations on officially surviving another trip ’round Sol.

  21. Happy New Year everyone!

  22. Well here in Izumo Japan the 31st was windy with periodic horizontal snow showers. Today is bright, sunny and calm. I’ll take that as a positive omen thank you very much.

    And we stood in a queue for an hour at midnight to pay our respects to Okuninushi, the spirit who lives in Izumo Taisha and who is in charge of marriage, relationships, business and medicine. That *has* to be good for something too!

  23. Well I hope for a bright New Year for you and yours. Personally 12 was my best year this century.

  24. Happy New Year, one and all!

  25. 2013.


    That’s it — we’re fucked.

  26. Is this a new year? Looks at news sites:
    0 Congress and President still can’t walk & chew gum, much less pass a budget or address a national problem in sane & sensible manner.

    0 Major headlines still seem to be about minor celebrities with no real achievements.

    0 Middle East is in turmoil? Well, that’s certainly not new.

    0 Russia is denouncing the United States as a horrible, terrible, no-good place.

    0 Europe’s economy is in tatters.

    0 China is trying to throw its weight around.

    Sorry, somebody has been pulling your leg; there’s nothing new about this year. Same old same old, just a little more run down.

  27. The word bonfire was originally bonefire – because people in England burned their garbage on the Feast of St John at one time. So in some ways your bonfire festivities were older than ours.
    I used to go guying in November when I was a kid. Nowadays kids have adopted the American Trick or Treat.
    For personal reasons I’m glad to be rid of 2012. Let’s all try to keep optimism alive.

    • I’m not 100% sure, but I think the leaping of the bonfire originated with the Picts as part of their summer solstice festivals. That would push the date of origin back a thousand years or more.

  28. *sideways glance at clock* eesh. where’d all the time go? Happy New Year all, and good night! (Good morning?)

  29. Well! No wonder the chickens ‘ve been looking at me funny.
    Happy New Year, All! Good riddance to 2012.

  30. Surfacing to say Happy New Year to everyone and to wish all of you and yours health, wealth, and happiness in the coming year.

  31. Best wishes to everyone for a better 2013.

  32. Happy New Year! And the fire-jumping is an old Pagan custom:
    Sergeant Howie: [outraged] But they are… a-are NAKED!
    Lord Summerisle: Naturally! It’s much too dangerous to jump through fire with their clothes on!
    That’s the late, great Edward Woodward and his co star Christopher Lee in “The Wicker Man,” the 1973 original, not the wretched remake. And you can guess the ending from the title; the movie was a terrible slap in the face to any New-Agers with a nicey-nicey idea of what Paganism involved.

  33. Did you mean to say Winter Solstice?

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Nope. Saint John’s Day is sometimes referred to as “Mid-Summer Day”. In some folk-lore “Mid-Summer’s Eve/St John’s Eve” is a time when strange things can happen.

      • From what I saw of Mid-Summer’s Eve in Innsbruck, very strange things can happen. The walls between worlds seemed exceedingly thin that night.

    • No. I meant Summer solstice. It was the IMPORTANT one and fit the same spot as “New Year” for us.

  34. That brings up another book idea, one that I grant to Sarah, and to anyone else who thinks they can do well with it:

    It’s the 17th of June, 20XX. Three people are trudging toward a point where, on the 21st, their world and a world of magic will merge in a circle 12 feet in diameter. None of the three know about any of the others, and each of the three is inimical to the other two. Who gets through? How did they learn about this place?

    When the 21st arrives, and two of the people fall through to the world of magic, locked in mortal combat, another world matches a spot in downtown Tokyo, and some six hundred people are exchanged between the two worlds. The Tokyo those from this Earth find on the other side is one where Tokyo survived WWII with most of its overseas possessions intact, and Hitler still ruled in Germany — but a Germany different from both the original and the one known to THIS Earth. Meanwhile, two couples honeymooning on a cruise ship in the Caribbean disappear, a paraplegic Marine living in 29 Palms, in California, can’t find his service dog, and two Eskimos in a kayak disappear from a camp near Sonderstrom Fjiord, Greenland. That should be enough to get the creative juices flowing…