A year ends and another year begins
In my country it is customary to burn "El viejo” (The Old Year) in a celebration called “la quemada del viejo” (the burning of the old man). In this tradition the “old year” is represented by a giant puppet made with old clothes, cardboard or paper which is stuffed with straw or sawdust, sometimes with fireworks and then burned in public at the twelfth hour on December 31st. The dolls are usually replicas of political figures or themes that represent the evil the community wants to be rid of, and consumed by the flames, along with “El Viejo”.
The custom, rooted in several Latin American countries, is a purifying rite, a way to ward off “bad luck” and hopefully start the new year thus cleansed. In many places, after the burning, someone reads a "will" in which the "deceased" recounts the major events gone by and gives recommendations with ironic or satirical language.
In my beloved Port of Veracruz, the indigenous Mixe- popolucas perform a dance that is known by the name of “The Chenu”. That's the name given to the puppet, and the dancers are children dressed as devils in red clothes, masks with horns, a long tail and a forked tongue built with a wooden fork. Some participants dress up in black, as pregnant widows, and their role is to mourn laudly when the Chenu burns.
Some years ago, I was present for a “quemada” in Veracruz. El Viejo was not one doll but two big puppets, representing Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski. The puppets were intertwined in a position, say... not suitable for innocent eyes. The burning happened right at the zocalo (the town’splaza) when the bells of the cathedral announced the end of the year.
I must confess that I, personally, have never liked the tradition. As a child, the public lynching of old people (for whom I felt only compassion) gave me nightmares. Why was it necessary to burn the sweet grandparents? The "cleansing" explanation was a concept foreign to my upbringing. I was raised to believe that tragedies happened not because of “bad luck” but because it was the will of God.
Today I understand that the tradition has a lot to do with the circle of life. The old die and children are born. This year I welcomed in my life my youngest grandson and I also said farewell to my father. And if there's somthing I learned from standing right in the middle of joy and sorrow is that the transition at the beginning and at the end of life is almost the same. Both, infants and old people, wear diapers, eat processed food, sleep all day, fall off their bed, need walkers, and communicate with gestures, or tears… They both require pacience and encouragement. They both need understanding and much love.
If I were the maker of traditions, I would celebreate the end of the year with a great farewell party to thank “El Viejo” for all the blessings and the wisdom bestowed. I would build him a raft with my prayers, wrap him in a blanket of hugs and send him off to sea, like baby Moses in his basket, so the waves would take him to be born again in that place where nobody gets old.
But tell me, my dear readers, how will you end your year?
However you celebrate, I wish you a happy farewell to 2013 and a happier 2014.