My past two New Year’s Eves in Ecuador were spent the way most of my prior ones were – in bed by 9:30 p.m. (Last year I did wake up when I heard the fireworks at midnight and went up on my deck to enjoy about 20 minutes of them nearly 360 degrees around me, but that was it.) I’m not big into the parties and am deeply reflective, so I usually relish private time on New Year’s Eve.
But this year, my friend Sigrid invited me to take part in a small gathering at her home. And the lesson God has been teaching me lately is, “Go where you are invited and not where you are not.” So after she explained to me the purpose of her event, I realized it would factor in quite nicely to my reflective nature, as well as my great anticipation of closing the door on this particular year.
I was well aware, even before I moved here, of the New Year’s Eve tradition of the burning of paper mache “effigys” or “viejos.” Although like many other holiday traditions, this one too has digressed into dolls made to look like cartoon characters or famous people, and has become more of a pyromania rush of fireworks and fires. But the original purpose of this ritual is to burn up a doll that is a reasonable facimile of you, dressed in your old clothes, and with it an attached list of all the negative things you are getting rid of from the old year.
Sigrid informed me that she had already acquired dolls for each of us and since she is an artist, I left it to her to paint on a face for me. I spent the afternoon tearfully reflecting on all the regret, pain and loss of the past year. First, I started with reading the beautiful “Footprints” gift book that Bill & Elaine gave me for Christmas. It was done by the same lady who wrote the famous poem and is a compilation of scriptures, hymns and reflective thoughts that were unbelievably perfect to help me process through all I’ve endured this year and put it into perspective. Then I made a list of all that I was ready to let go of and be done with. I summed it all up at the top with “Fret and Regret.” This was certainly not the hardest year of my life, but one that I suffered through many difficult lessons and disappointments, both in others and in myself. There was much that I desired to bury and move on.
I took some old clothes I wasn’t wearing any more. We began the evening with appetizers (yes, my famous artichoke dip was included) and then Sigrid served us a late but lovely dinner. Then about 11:30, we all dressed our Viejos and headed to the beach, where Sigrid’s son and family along with others were gathered. The bonfire was lit and then as people were ready, one by one they began throwing their Viejos into the fire to burn. It was a fitting way for me to do it – it was my first beach bonfire since the last one (of many) that Robert made for me the night before he left in February 2014. When I was ready, I approached the fire with my doll. I had taped the long list of things I was letting go of to the chest. A friend took pictures as I tossed my doll on the fire. Then I took my camera back and took a few more while it burned. I was completely unaware of the time. It wasn’t until later when I looked at the pictures on my phone that I saw the time of the photo when I tossed my Viejo on the fire was 11:59, and when I took the picture of it burning was straight up midnight!
After a few reflective moments of watching it burn and symbolically letting go of everything with it, I turned my attention to the fabulous fireworks Sigrid’s son was lighting. All up and down the beach other bonfires blazed and fireworks were lit – it was quite a festive spectacle. Here is a slideshow of some photos:
Not long after the fireworks wound down, some friends drove me home and I was in bed by 1:00 a.m. When I awoke this morning around my usual time, all was “calm and bright.” I went for a long neglected morning beach walk. As I continued my New Year’s reflections and prayers, I began to ponder the sharp difference of the two years I’ve spent in Ecuador. 2014 began with a “Fresh Start” and was an exhilarating “out of the boat” year for me. By contrast, just like the apostle Peter did, I realized that in 2015 I spent the year more focused on the wind and the waves, sinking and crying out “Lord, save me!” Now I begin this year feeling that Jesus has reached out His hand, lifted me up and brought me back into the boat. The storm has died down and once again I feel grounded, with a sober-minded awareness of how quickly I can go from on top of the water to under it, just from losing my focus. As I reflected, this prayer/song rose in my heart:
But more than anything, I am grateful I serve a God of second chances, and that once again I have a blank-slate year in front of me. I’ve learned a lot from the previous two years and carry all those lessons with me as I forge ahead into this year of uncharted territory.
After all, it’s all about the Journey…