I'm a big believer in traditions, so it's no surprise to anyone that our family has a double-handful of customs for New Year's Eve. One of the kids' all-time favorites is the one involving fire.
The ancients believed that fire purified, and purification is just what this mama and her brood need after 365 days of bunglin' along. Before we begin discussing what we want to change in the new year, we go about putting the old year behind us for good.
We each take a piece of paper and write down every single thing we can think of that we regret about our behavior during the previous 12 months. Whining, selfishness, overeating, impatience, short temper, bad grades, dirty tricks, reading under the covers after lights-out – if we have spent any time mentally beating ourselves up for it, we write it down. (Or draw it, if our spelling's still shaky; or we may just make aggressive crayon marks, if we happen to be a baby wanting to do what everyone else is doing.)
We don't talk about what we're writing or show it to anyone. When we've gotten it all down, we look over the list one last time, then crumple the paper into a ball. When everyone's done, we go outside and we burn the lists.
While they're burning, we forgive ourselves for whatever was written on those pieces of paper. We come back inside feeling virtuous (and usually frozen), purged of all those sticky little petty things we're not too proud of, and ready to begin again with clean slates. The rule is this: Once you've owned it, written it and burned it, it's over. You are not allowed to torture yourself with it any more.
Through the years – and 6 teenage kids – this tradition has morphed into a semi-elaborate affair involving fire pits and flame throwers. (A flame thrower is an extremely cathartic tool, and I heartily recommend that each household have at least one. Don't store them with the Nerf guns, though.) No matter how much fun the kids have with the pyrotechnics, though, the solemn reason behind the bonfire is never lost on them. By forgiving ourselves for a year's worth of shortcomings, we can look into the coming year with hope – and the belief that we have what it takes to reach the goals we set for ourselves.
This teaches our kids – and us – to deal with disappointment and guilt. It encourages us to leave the past in the past and look towards the future. It's not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, nor is it absolution; rather, it's a chance to begin again with a clear conscience, to truly turn over a new leaf.
And so far – on Day 3 of the New Year – everyone's still cheerfully forging ahead.