Last week's column on the loss and return of loved ones generated more response than any of my previous writings. Some of you had me in tears with beautiful, touching stories of your own visitors from beyond. If I weren't already a believer, your accounts would have convinced me that the soul does indeed outlive these poor old bodies of ours.
Interestingly, each one of these visits was from an immediate family member - a parent, a sibling, even a child. Not one spouse or lover. I guess blood, being thicker than water, is a superior conductor for this type of energy. In any case, the sharing of your personal moments made this Christmas even more meaningful and inspirational to me, and I am deeply grateful.
Now we are just days away from the holiday I consider the most significant of all: New Year's Day. Even as a child, when Christmas was my favorite day of the year, New Year's seemed even more special. I think it's because of all the rituals surrounding it. I'm a sucker for rituals.
At our home, my father's New Year's Eve party was a long-standing tradition. Preparations began almost as soon as the Christmas gifts were unwrapped. The living room was cleared to make room for rows of folding tables, the little Japanese ones that Shirokiya used to sell, coffee table height. Picnic tables were borrowed and brought into the patio for those who weren't comfortable sitting on the floor. Both house and garage got a thorough cleaning, which is a required New Year's activity anyway, party or not. Gotta have your house cleaned and your bills paid before the year ends, so that you can start the next year fresh.
The first of the guests arrived in late afternoon and the last to leave shuffled home well after sunrise. The party itself was nothing fancy, just a lot of folks enjoying a lot of food and fellowship. From the garage icebox (it was a refrigerator but we still called it an icebox, except for my young son, who named it the "re-food-gerator"), Mom dug out the tako (octopus) caught by friends earlier in the year and frozen for storage. Steamed tako with sweet miso sauce was my favorite, along with Auntie Irene's little cherry tarts and anything made by my cousin Betty.
Supervised by a couple of uncles, we kids played with sparklers on the front lawn and anxiously awaited the arrival of my Honolulu cousin, who always brought the good stuff, the real fireworks, from the big city. Of course, this was before Homeland Security and political correctness stifled our rambunctious, smoke-filled celebrations.
Like the use of firecrackers to scare away evil spirits, most of our traditions were culturally based, but I suspect my mother may have invented one or two of our family rituals. I'm almost positive she made up the rule about greeting the new year in your own home, but it stuck. Even as a wild teenager, when I abandoned the party to cruise with my friends, I always got home in time for the Times Square ball drop - via tape delay, of course. In fact, there were a couple of years when New Year's Eve was the only night of the year that saw me actually adhere to my midnight curfew. I was bold enough to defy my parents, but I didn't dare mess with New Year's rituals.
New Year's Day always begins with a good bath. When my husband and I were studying karate, our sensei led us in a similar custom, conducting a sunrise session on the beach. In full uniform, waist-deep in the ocean, we performed katas and drills to exhaustion, then exhilaration. These years, my ritual baths are not quite as strenuous, but just as satisfying. I stumble straight from the bed into a hot, steamy shower. I imagine all the sorrow and pain of the previous year being washed down the drain as my hopes and plans for the new year flow through my head like the water cascading over me.
I don't do resolutions in the proverbial sense, but I follow a comparable tradition. Maybe it's more of a superstition. Mom always said, "Whatever you do on New Year's Day, you'll be doing for the rest of the year." So I make it a point to avoid any unpleasantness and I fill my day with positive thoughts and actions.
This Sunday I have a fun gig in the morning and tickets to a great show that night. In between, I'll spend time with loved ones near and far, even those departed. And I will laugh and dance and sing. It's going to be a wonderful year.
Happy New Year!
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.