Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Auld Lang Syne

Tomorrow night, midnight to be exact, marks the passing of yet another year and the dawn of the one that follows – 2010. I must say that it is a nice number, even and round. For some reason I have never managed to figure out, I have since childhood had the feeling that odd numbers are bad and even numbers good – not in a bad luck/good luck kind of way but more in the way of a good guy/bad guy grouping. Seeing this in print makes me understand why I have never been able to put my finger on the reason behind this idea, as it makes no sense at all. But then neither do a lot of things.

In the wake of the year we now discard, one tends to briefly review the past, and for desert, contemplate the future. This is an exercise in futility as there is really nothing in hand except the present, the past is over and done with and the future not something one can count on acquiring. There is however something to be said for looking over one’s shoulder to learn from one’s mistakes and possibly making up for them, as well as gazing ahead and setting the benchmark for what is coming, preferably a little bit higher than one can realistically attain.

Now this may sound as if Icelanders spend New Year’s Eve sitting on a rock overlooking the sea, philosophizing as if we were a nation of Platos and Simone de Beauvoirs. This is not the case at all. New Year’s is a time of commemoration where the only recess from nonsensical festivities is the occasional celebrator loudly making a resolution to stop this, start that or state some other pledge that is seldom followed through. This is probably the case in most countries; friends and family get together, drink and become merry. However Iceland does have a small claim to fame regarding this holiday, namely the fireworks and bonfires associated with our New Year’s Eve celebrations. These are truly something to behold and unless I am badly mistaken not paralleled elsewhere. What makes the fireworks unique is that they are not organized shows but are set off by the individuals and families, coming to a head at midnight when the sky is next to set ablaze. This year 550 tons are expected to go off.

Fireworks are only legal over this period and are sold by rescue teams who use the profits from the sales to run their operations until it is New Year’s again. Sales begin on the 27th and soon thereafter isolated pops and bursts can be heard, preparing your eardrums for what is to come. The frequency increases at a steady pace until it is about six in the evening of New Year’s when the noise becomes a steady tattoo, stopping at ten on the dot when everyone goes inside to watch a parody on TV of the passing year’s events. At eleven this program is over and the president gives his TV speech – precisely at the same moment that everyone goes back outside and the fireworks begin again. The explosions last into the early morning hours while the smell of gunpowder lingers in the air even longer.

Regarding the bonfires, these are organized by the various neighborhoods and towns, set afire in the evening and are massive enough to burn for some hours. Almost everyone drops by one of these sites at some point during the evening, to meet up with neighbors, friends or relatives or just to feel the heat on their exposed cheeks from the enticing orange flames. Adults usually bring along flasks with schnapps to pass around and kids small handheld fireworks to add some color to the gathering. It is a truly wonderful event, irrespective of the weather outside.

So shortly my family and I will be dragging our personal arsenal out of our garage along with the family and friends that will be joining us for dinner and possibly breakfast. If you look to the north between 10 and 12 PM GMT you might see a multicolor glow denoting our celebration of what is to come, marking a hope that it will be better, kinder and more enlightened than what we leave behind.

Happy New Year everyone.

Yrsa - Wednesday


  1. And to think that I thought Northern Lights were a natural phenomenon! We had similar festivities when I was young to celebrate Guy Fawkes day - a festivity whose point I never quite understood. Did we blow all sorts of things up to celebrate or rue the fact that Mr. Fawkes failed to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London? I remember also carefully contracting multi-stage rockets whose second stage frequently came roaring straight down instead of straight up. And I have fond memories of filling those little gas cylinders, used for making sparkling drinks, with gunpowder and a waterproof fuse. Drop it into a 44-gallon drum of water and presto the drum would burst. Very dangerous methinks in retrospect. Happy New Year

  2. Hi Yrsa,

    I just love reading your posts.

    I had to laugh when you mentioned odd and even numbers, I have a thing about that and I'm not sure why.

    Best wishes to you and your family for a wonderful 2010.


  3. Best wishes to all the contributors here at Murder is Everywhere for a very happy and healthy new year.

    I want to thank you all for making 2009 such a great year of reading for me and I'm looking forward to many more.


  4. I also remember from when I was a kid taking chunks of coal to our New Year party hosts. It is an old Scottish Hogmanay tradition (I had MacGregor and Watt grandparents). I guess it was to keep the host's house warm in case the Scotch ran out.

  5. Happy New Year to everyone. May all your hopes and dreams come true in the New Year.

  6. Tonight is the 34th celebration of First Night in Boston, MA. Many cities have adopted the plan but it started here as a way for families to celebrate the new year and the arts and diversity of the community. The events begin in the afternoon with parades in the Back Bay section of Boston and conclude with fireworks at midnight at Boston Harbor on the other side of the city.

    The events start with the FedEx family festival at 1:00 pm then really kicks off with the Grand Procession, a parade with organized groups and unorganized families with kids in strollers. Throughout the city there are venues for face painting and hat making for kids, celebrations with music, dance, comedy, and just about anything else. A button costing 18.00 (kids under 4 are free) allows entrance to all the indoor entertainment, the only problem being how to choose which one.

    It costs nothing to just enjoy the crowds, the ice sculptures, the sidewalk artists, and the bands and choral groups scattered throughout. There are fireworks at 7:00 pm for the children who can't stay awake till midnight.

    Alcohol is not allowed, a rule that is strictly enforced. Roads are closed and people are encouraged to use public transportation which runs much later than usual in staid Boston.

    Boston has a population of just over 600,000. First Night swells the population to more than 1,000,000. The city is one of the most walkable cities in the world. First Night is the best kind of street party and one of the major highlights are the ice sculptures spread throughout the city. The major pieces this year are "Michelangelo Creating the David", a copy in ice of one of the major Egyptian pieces in the Museum of Fine Arts, and a fisherman based on a Winslow Homer painting. We aren't in the same league as Beijing but the links on the First Night website show that they are real art, too.

    New Year's Day the city will fill up again with families coming in to see the sculptures which will be in place until weather removes them from sight. Boston had a White Christmas this year, a rare event. By Sunday, the snow was gone. On Tuesday and Wednesday tempertures and wind chill combined to make it feel as it it was 10F. History tells us that anyone who wants to see the sculptures needs to do so fast. So New Year's Day will find the streets crowded again.

    I wish you and your's a new year filled with the blessings that will bring you great joy and fullment.

    Health and long life to all,


  7. Growing up in the north of England, one of my annual roles was to 'first foot' for my grandmother. It was hers and many others belief that the first person to enter your house in the New Year had to be a tall, dark man in order to give you luck. I had to leave many New Years parties and many promising situations in order to first foot. Not that I minded - grandma always handed over a crisp five pound note in reward...

  8. Beth,

    I'd vote that Boston is THE most walkable city in the US.

    I've always enjoyed visiting, but I'd never heard of First Night.

    Now, after your description, I think I'm gonna spend a New Year's in Beantown.

    Can't do it next year, though. Next year, I'm angling for a job in the UK>


    Five quid?
    Crikey! It pays better than writing.
    I'm pretty tall, some of my hair is still dark and I'm available to "first foot".
    Not this year, though.
    I've already bought my champagne.


    A Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year!
    And lotsa champers to bring it in with.

  9. Leighton - the "no alcohol" policy relieves parents of a lot of stress when high school age teens want to do something on New Year's Eve. Kids can always find someone to provide them with alcohol, but it destroys the cool quotient if you have to call your parents to have them pick you up at a police station.

    Given where you spend most of your time, I think New Year's in Boston would be a terrible shock to the system. Temperatures in the 20's tonight with snow this afternoon, means damp with a cold that gets into your bones. More Netherlands than Brazil or Florida.

    Skip First Night and come apple picking in late October, fabulous weather and, if we are lucky, the leaves have changed color and haven't yet blown off the trees.

  10. Yrsa

    Again, a lovely post. You have a way of making me "feel" like I am right there in Iceland. Your customs are all so interesting and so different from ours.

    Watching beautiful big snowflakes fall right now. Ground and trees are soft and white. I love it. My husband says roads are very slick though, so I'm happy I can just look out the window.

    Thank you Murder Is Everywhere bloggers for providing your readers with this space. It's one of my favorite places to visit and I'm never disappointed.

    Happy New Year to all from Jacquie - Rhode Island, USA

  11. Beth, I enjoyed a few First Nights when I lived in Boston. Leighton, I spent one of the first nights of my freshman year at university walking the streets of Boston after we missed the last train back to school following a concert. Boston is a walkable city, and Mass General Hospital's emergency room had tolerably confortable chairs back then ...

    Happy New Year, all.
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  12. Peter - Mass General's chairs aren't comfortable after 6 hours.

    Boston still thinks the sidewalks should be rolled up after midnight. I can't count the calls I've received from various children who missed the last train.

    One of my daughters lives in Brookline and she is happy that her trip to work doesn't involve using whichever branch of the Green Line goes past BU to BC. Those cars are always jammed.

    The MBTA experience never changes no matter what decade you were using it. The air conditioning works a little better and the steps are a little lower but Park St. is still a madhouse.

  13. To Stan: I never understood the underlying reason to celebrate Guy Fawkes day but the best holidays are sometimes held for the worst reasons. I also hope you had no use for the coal this new years and that there was enough whiskey to keep everyone warm.

    To Susie: I had a feeling this odd even number thing was somehow a human attribute and if two people constitute as a representative sample we might be on our way to a theory.

    To Beth: This first night celebration sounds excellent. A no alcohol policy should be attached to more get-togethers where masses turn out, especially if families are the main attendees.

    To Dan: a friend of mine from Cumbria said that his father became highly agitated if a red haired woman was the first to cross the doorstep on new year's as this was the epitome of bad luck. I'm sure he would have shelled over 5 pounds to have you drop by.

    To Jacquie: I'm glad you like the posts, all places have strange things if you look close enough - Iceland is just small enough and made up of an unusually uniform population which makes the oddities or eccentricities stand out more, especially if you have lived abroad for any length of time as I have and have the comparison to larger societies.

    Happy times everyone - Yrsa