Friday, January 01, 2010

(photos bottom to top: before, during and after)
Flames and fireworks:
Burning the past and lighting the future.

For many years, my husband and I have spent New Years Eve at home either hosting sleepovers for our children and their friends or monitoring their party plans and hoping for their safe return. Saying goodbye to 2009 meant saying goodbye to old patterns and hello to what I hope is a new end of the year tradition: celebrating with friends and fireworks and a ritual burning of a sculpture made by Patrick Gracewood.

Patrick has created and burned a special year end sculpture for the past 30 years. His first sculptures were stuffed with fireworks and ignited on the beach in California. After moving here, Patrick continued the tradition despite the rainy Portland weather. For two days before the end of the year, Patrick gathers found objects, cardboard boxes, mailing tubes, wood shavings, leaves and seeds. Then with paint, glue, string and fireworks, Patrick creates a sculpture to burn.

Every year, the sculpture is different. Last year, it was a Nutcracker King with rats for the Chinese New Year. This year, with the second full moon for December on New Years Eve, Patrick’s sculpture had a ‘blue moon’ face, arms like the goddess Shiva and two large tigers because 2010 is the year of the tiger.

Everyone gathered, talked, ate and enjoyed the warm peaceful space of Patrick’s studio. When the time got close to midnight, people began writing their goodbyes to 2009 and what they’d like to say hello to in the New Year. The folded, rolled papers were placed in a basket decorated with white flowers in front of the blue moon goddess. Close to midnight the sculpture was carried outside. Michael and I proceeded with the storytelling sticks, others carried fireworks, sparklers and baskets of seeds which were saved originally for Y2K. Remember, it was supposed to be the ‘end’ of the world? We were all glad that almost a decade later, we could let go of those old fears, too.

Miraculously, the rain stopped just in time to set the sculpture on fire. Sparklers sizzled. Colors exploded. The darkness of the past and future were lit up. The flames warmed the cold, damp night. And as we all stood around the funeral for the past and the birth of the future, we shared a collective sigh. Some talked of letting go of the many mistakes from the last year and keeping the lessons learned. Someone else saw meaning in the fire ritual, how as it burned the creation to ash, its flames allow us to see the light of possibilities in a year of unknowns. Others shared hopes for the New Year: new beginnings, health and happiness.

As the flames died down burning the past and lighting the future, we exchanged wishes and hugs for the New Year with new friends and old. Then we left quietly into the early hours of the new morning of 2010.