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.