Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year Musings

Ever since we officially set the date, Jeff and I have gotten into the habit of saying things like, "You know, next year at this time — we'll be married." All during the winter holiday season, we kept smiling gently at each other, nudging each other once in a while, whispering, "Next year at this time...."

And now, the calendars and clocks have all turned over, and suddenly we've gone from 'getting married next year' to 'getting married this year'! Only eight months, two weeks and one day to go... And still so much to do!

In many ways, I've gotten out of the habit of celebrating the secular new year. For Druids and many other Pagans, Samhain (pronounced sow'-en) marks the beginning of the new year, or at least the end of the old. According to its folk etymology, the name "Samhain" comes from the words for "summer's end." As the final harvest festival, it marks the change from the light half of the year to the dark half, and a crossing over into some of the hardest, harshest months. Celtic-inspired Pagans sometimes imagine the traditional Wheel of the Year as a torc instead, with Samhain marking the beginning of a kind of "no-time" that lasts until the rebirth of the sun on the winter solstice. As the days darken, the land slips into hibernation, lying dormant beneath the cold winds. Even the winter solstice itself sees only the first glimpse of new hope, the lengthening nights slowing to a stop, losing their momentum as the sun seems to pause on its journey along the horizon — yet it will still be several days before it begins its journey of return, several weeks before the now lengthening days are noticeable, and a couple months before the first real stirrings of spring are felt in the old body of the earth.

Where does the secular New Year of the calendar fit into all of this? Well, it's something that the larger culture celebrates, and for that reason it has some weight to it. It's also, in some ways, just an extension of the winter solstice celebrations. If the winter solstice is the first invisible stirrings of rebirth in the celestial realm of the sun, then the days surrounding Christmas and New Year's — with their songs and crowds and warm fires and bright lights and delicious food — is our first stubborn push back towards the light, back towards life and laughter and love. I can get on board with that! On the other hand, Jeff and I aren't exactly "party" people, and usually by the time New Year's rolls around, we're exhausted and quite ready to slip back into that warm, little space of our own, our den of hibernation that we've created to weather the winter months. I can't remember the last time I celebrated a New Year's in the traditional way, with a big party, champagne and fireworks (honestly, I'm not sure I've ever celebrated New Year's with champagne, though I think a few years ago I did wind up in a bar with my best friend sharing a Woodchuck hard cider on New Year's Eve).

This year, Jeff and I managed to stay awake until midnight, mostly because I was engaged in a quiet ritual of dedication and thanks to my gods, followed by a lengthy divination reading that took hours to interpret. We were deep in conversation about astrological houses and what the tarot cards indicated we could expect from 2011 when I heard what I thought at first to be distant thunder rolling over the hills. I only realized they were fireworks when Jeff glanced up at the clock and said, "Happy New Year, darling." "Oh!" I said, "Happy New Year! So.... what does The Star in the Sixth House mean again?"

This time next year, we'll be married. Sometimes, moments of change slip by practically unnoticed. I wonder what it will be like to be a wife, and I find it hard to imagine things will be all that different. Sure, I'll have a ring, and a way cooler name with lots of alliteration in it, and a promise from the man I love to stick around and grow old with me. But I have most of those things already. When I think about what it will be like "next year at this time," what I mostly think about is how I won't have a wedding to plan. The ceremony will be behind us, the vows will have been made, the family will have been fed and entertained and will, hopefully, have fond memories to look back on.

But having the wedding behind us will itself be a change, and one that may have the same kind of subtle effect that we find in the winter solstice — it is a beginning before a beginning. The vows of a wedding ceremony don't suddenly transform two individuals into a coherent married unit. Marriage is an on-going project, a commitment that is renewed every day and that grows and changes slowly as life rolls on, trundling over obstacles and gathering the momentum of memory and cherished times shared together. But the wedding itself is a promise — like the rebirth of that tiny seed of sun in the dim winter sky, a wedding only hints at what's to come. It is the moment when all the hope and blessings of family and community become crystalized in a rite of passage, passed on to a new generation to be carried forward. The cycle begins again. And maybe nothing seems different at first.

So what will it be like, next year at this time, to be a married couple? Even with the help of my tarot cards, I can't exactly predict the future. But I imagine that, in our married life as in the life of the land, this time next year will be a time of celebration and warm, blazing light despite the darkness and cold outside. The first steps towards a new season of spring, cultivation and harvest — the first steps as a married couple into the future that is waiting for us, carrying the seed of our promise as a gift to one another.

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