Come Out to the Fire

Come out to the fire” is what my husband tells me during the second to last week of the year when I am deeply grieving over a beloved who has suddenly died.

I had almost made it through the year without attending a funeral or memorial via Zoom…almost, but not quite. I’m exhausted, emotionally, and physically, my heart is aching for more loved ones whose loss runs much deeper than mine and I am cold.

So I sit under the stars and moonlight, in front of the fire, and relish the sensation of slowly growing warmer and warmer, cheeks heating up, toes curling into the newfound warmth of my boots.

Tears spill out and down my face and I know that I am grieving not just for this most current loss but for all that has been lost over the past year and for all who have lost and feel lost. I recognize it as a ceremony of staying supple and true, so I let the tears fall and gulp down water, trying to replace the moisture as quickly as I lose it. I finally go inside as the owls begin to call and I sleep well, healed in some way by those golden flames.

Covid cases are spiking again in our city and so we cannot follow our usual Christmas tradition of joining my Uncle and Aunt for Christmas eve. The boys tear into their Christmas eve gift of matching pajamas and put them on and gambol about like the best of elves. We set out plates of sugar cookies – my grandmother’s recipe with a modern gluten-free twist – that we have spent the last few days decorating for Santa and his elves. My oldest wants to make sure that the Reindeer have carrots too much on as well so we set those out.

My husband stokes the fire beginning around 4 pm on Christmas Eve. We are sneaking outside while the boys play at cleaning their room to furtively wrap last minute presents. The flames are growing larger, rising higher, and they cast off heat and warmth as the scent of wood smoke settles on my hair and my clothes.

After snuggling down together as the sun sets we call to the boys “come out to the fire!” They do, they come and we circle around the flames as people have done for so very long, seeking out warmth, connection, light, seeking out each other. I read the Night Before Christmas and am struck by how clearly St. Nick is described as a faerie being with his retinue of wild deer and elven helpers. I’ve always known this. Anytime you leave out offerings of cookies and milk you know that you are working with the Fae, but the wonder of it strikes me anew.

I am gathering the materials for the final fire of the year, the Banish and Burn fire that we will create for the entire community. I am putting aside the herbs and libations I’ll pour on the flames as they begin to burn in earnest. I will cast hundreds of slips of paper over those flames each one covered in the words of what a soul no longer wants, no longer needs, and is no longer willing to carry. This is a fire where we will come together in spirit and leave a bit lighter, ready for whatever is next.

And I realize that this is my hope for everyone as the year comes to a close under this Full Moon in Cancer – a sign of tribe and family that have, since time out of mind, found one another across the flames…that you come out to the fire, that you find the fires – campfires, cook fires, fires of story and song, that you can gather around them and warm yourselves by their flame and light as the old year breathes its last and the New Year is born in magic and brilliance.

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