The first time I saw an effigy burned I was five, and my family was living for a year living in England. I didn't quite understand the meaning of Guy Fawkes Night. We stood away from the crowd, in the dark at the local oval. At some point in the proceedings, which seemed to involve a lot of fireworks and "catherine wheels", we watched the crowd throw a life-sized doll onto the bonfire, and everyone cheered. I was confused. It all seemed barbaric and wild to me, especially at that young age.
Next time was at the turn of the millennium. I was almost 30. A New Years Eve party at Straddie. Our loveable (mad) architect friends fashioned a huge chickenwire millenium-man and filled him with combustible things. He stood burning on the beach at Amity point as we danced around the bonfire. Jem was dressed as a zebra and I was a butterfly. I don't remember anything else about the night. What did we eat? Were we the only ones to get dressed up? What other entertainment was there? Its all a mystery to me. Anyone else remember? I wonder if my sense of catharsis and elation was connected in some way to that 5 year old watching Guy Fawkes burn?
Something strangely atavistic, symbolic and slightly disturbing about this whole process, I have often reflected. No wonder the KKK used it as a tool of terror. A simple version of this in Latvian traditional culture is the dragging and burning of the yule log - where at Christmas a log representing everything from the old year is dragged around the farmstead for luck and prosperity in the new year. Afterwards you burn it up, along with all the bad stuff from the past year.
My last public effigy burning happened a week or so ago - totally spontaneously, on December 31st, Jem made a 2013-man to put on top of our awesome iron fire sculpture. We lit him up just after midnight calls of "Happy New Year" and champagne and fireworks. He burned in a spectacular and prolonged fashion, showering sparks and stubbornly refusing to burn completely. The kids - ours and our friends' - stood there dumbstruck, a bit excited, a bit freaked out - and asked sensible questions, as the flames rose up to engulf our 2013 man. A thrilling and mysterious way to mark the change - leaving behind the old, and welcoming the new.
So goodbye, 2013 with all your good and bad. Bring on 2014!