Thursday, 4 January 2018

Happy Kerstboomverbranding!

As the 2017 holiday season softens into memory, we North Americans might pause to consider whether we've finished the job.

We're pretty good at initiating our great annual solstice commemoration: it starts cleanly on the first of December (American Thanksgiving weekend in the US). Then we slowly build through the darkest month, drumming on themes of fellowship and good will, revering the season's natural beauty and that of our decorations, celebrating family and childhood, and invoking Christmas past.

That's all excellent practice, as I've opined before. Christmas Eve and Day – one of the few moments in our cultures when quiet intimacy with family is upheld – crown these worthy preparations. Some engage in the equally hushed and moving ritual of Midnight Mass.

Then we wisely stand down for a week to digest, literally and figuratively. It also helps us rebuild strength for the final assault: our salute to the dying year and our survival of it, in a gay but determined vigil to the bitter end.

Whereupon Guy Lombardo sounds keisu, and Solstice Ango is over.

And that's always found me aching for closure next morning. For New Year's Eve is a lament for people, places, and conditions we can never see again. It's a very healthy reflection – especially for Americans, who oblige a kind of adolescent nihilism the rest of the year – but it's only half the truth.

The other half is the new people, places, and conditions that are evolving at the speed of life, and our lot and luck to carpe the crap out of that diem. Before it too passes and is mourned on another New Year's Eve.

Therefore, I advocate Kerstboomverbranding. That's the early January rite of Dutch and Belgian communities, who create an epic bonfire from the mass of their dessicated Christmas trees on which to cremate the bones of the past. Children jump up and down in the searing light while neighbours mill about, sharing New Year's wishes, leftover Christmas cookies, and warming libations.

It's a brief-enough party; dry conifers burn violently, and fast. The whole ritual takes about an hour of early seasonal darkness, leaving folks plenty of time to put the children to bed and sweep any residual needles out of the front room.

Similar things are already going on in a few places here; at Ballard's Golden Garden Park, for example, where participants are supposed, in theory, to burn their trees individually in picnic ground fire rings. But where's the fun in that? To the best of my knowledge, the City of Seattle has yet to shut down the spontaneous combustion that tends to result instead.

But wouldn't it be great if this sort of thing happened in neighbourhoods across the hemisphere: small local initiatives, informal and fleeting, to provide runway lights for the in-bound future. (And before the eco-puritans launch their Barney Fife schtick, no, this would not have an appreciable effect on the planet's health. Just one factory – one – pumps vastly more particulates and toxins into the air in an hour of operation. Or a mile of freeway. Or a jet airliner. Or a single forest fire. Scale, folks. Use it or lose it.)

Anyway, that would be awesome.

(Photo of Kerstboomverbranding in Berchem, Belgium, by a local photographer.)
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