1300, 1st January

We have performed the last rites
on a year that had worn out its welcome:
We have cut a branch and decked it,
lit the candles and watched them burn
and given thanks that we are all still here.
We have made our offerings,
sweets for our lady of Calvary
whose help we pray we will not need.
We have observed the cleansing of the sky with fire
from a pleasant hill, once host
to untimely death – a fitting place
to end a year quartered by death.
We have scented ourselves, our home,
with sweet lavender, stolen in darkness,
to be sewn into bags with seeds
for the new year’s happier dreams.
We have cried the tears that needed to be shed
to cleanse our spirits of this cruel year
and then we have cast it out, thrown it
into the fire pit with the branch
stripped of its glitter and baubles
where it can lie disregarded, shedding its needles,
until it is nothing but a bare scaly skeleton.
And then we will watch it burn.

My Latvian grandmother once told me that on new year’s day you have to throw out the Christmas tree and then burn it, to get rid of the ghost of the old year. In Australia we can’t do that because it’s bushfire season and fires are illegal. Which is a bit of a disappointment, given what a year it’s been, dogged by deaths. But we have all our other rituals – we take several large boxes of chocolates into the Calvary ED staff in the hope we won’t see them for another year, watch the family fireworks and steal a huge bunch of lavender (from where it won’t be missed, and will be cut down in a week or so). When it dries it will be mixed with wheat and sewn into bags for winter – microwaved they provide heat and scent. And finally, on new year’s day the Christmas tree (a branch cut from the same tree every year) is stripped and thrown out the door to dry until bushfire season is over and we can burn it on the winter solstice as the older gods intended and my grandmother once observed on the other side of the world.   

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