Words, wires, and worms

Rituals Without Rules

In 2005, we accidentally started a tradition: we set our Christmas tree on fire.2016-tree-burn-2

My mom and son had built a Handy Man fire pit. We were shy of firewood, we did, however, have a dry tree.

I honestly don’t recall if we stuffed the tree that first year, or if we started it the next, but at some point, we included invitations and dismissals in our accidental tradition. On slips of paper, we wrote down things we wanted to invite into our lives, and things we wanted to remove.

We stuffed the tree with the invites and get-outs, then watched our tree give us its most spectacular gift: the fire dance.

2016-tree-burn-1After the first burn, we were addicted. This is the eleventh year and the tenth time (we missed one year) that we delighted in the ritual of stuffing the tree with our invitations (hellos, welcomings) and dismissals  (goodbyes, good riddances) before placing it in the pit for its final fiery moments.

Our tree burning tradition satisfies my personal affection for fire, my love for candlelight, fireplaces, and campfires.

Tree burning also plays on ancient emotions within us, inspired by rituals and events of past and present. Cleansing and killing, devil and god. Fire warms a home and cooks a meal. Fire ravages forests and buildings. Fire is the send-off ceremony of the dead. Fire is the light that leads the way. Fire inspires and terrifies in equal measure.

For my family, fire delights. Our fire-pit tree burn has become an annual inter-generational party and a post-holiday kick-off for a new year. After a couple of years, we began collecting one or two additional trees for the ritual. That’s when the questions about rules escalated.

  • Is this the welcoming tree or the dismissal tree?
  • Do I have to fold the paper?
  • Do I put the invitation on one side and the dismissal on the other?
  • Does it matter where I put it in the tree?
  • Can I write more than one?

Every year I explain: there are no rules. This idea makes some people suspicious. What kind of ritual is this, after all, if there are no rules?

I understand why they ask. They’re afraid they’re going to mess up the magic. 

Here’s the life lesson, regardless of your religion, creed, or culture:2016-tree-burn-3

The magic isn’t in the rules of ritual.

The magic is in our gratitude.

The magic is in our affirmations, in our prayers.

The magic is in us, always within us.

This year after the third tree completed its fire dance, I realized I had not attached any dismissals to the trees. I had only inserted welcomings. Did I break the rules? Absolutely not. Maybe I was influenced by new year resolution diet talk: the more good things you put in, the less room there is for bad to get in.

This year’s tree burn was fabulous. I’m grateful for the friends and family who participated, for the food and fun.

My takeaway: I stuffed my 2016 tree trunk with welcomings and welcome-backs; there was no room for my bad baggage on that trunk.

May 2016 light up your hopes and dreams and bring you the warmth of joy and bright blessings.

Copyright © 2016 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.

6 responses

  1. Penny, I loved this idea…if only we were allowed to built a fire and actually had a real tree, we would do this for sure. I will need to give some thought how we can make this happen. Even in Arizona a small fire can be ok.

    Best wishes for a Happy and Welcoming New Year.



    January 12, 2016 at 6:32 pm

    • The fire dance of a dry Christmas tree is a wondrous thing, but I don’t recommend it in arid, fire-prone zones. We’re protected by our swampy environment. But you can welcoming and dismissal rituals with small fires in small pits or fireplaces. Sometimes I do mini burns with a friend or two to help us get through a tough patch. We do it armed with a couple of notebooks and pens, and a small fire in the pit. Hope yours is a bright 2016! Thanks for reading.


      January 12, 2016 at 6:38 pm

  2. Pingback: Rituals Without Rules | Abanico Internacional

  3. Reblogged this on Wellness from Scratch and commented:
    Beautiful tradition and touching words


    January 16, 2016 at 8:45 pm

  4. terrinorthwind

    I love this! Your pictures are extraordinary, it must be amazing in person. I like your idea of small fires also, welcoming and dismissals have really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing your wonderful tradition.


    January 18, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    • Thanks. And you’re welcome. Watching the tree burst into flame in person is amazing. And addicting!


      January 18, 2016 at 3:28 pm

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