We spent this New Year’s Eve even more quietly than normal. Every December 31st when our kids were small, we followed the same well-worn routine. Potato salad and hot dogs for supper, some sparkling wine for the grownups, and then after spending an hour or so outside shooting some fireworks, we’d come inside to melt tin.
The melting of the tin is an old Finnish tradition. The idea is to melt pieces of “tin” (actually a lead alloy) in a special ladle and then toss the liquefied metal into cold water. This instantly freezes the tin into any number of random, odd shapes, from which – amazingly enough – you can predict your fortune for the coming year. A mass of tin with a rough surface, for example, points to more money in your future.
This is a bit like the tradition back in Georgia of eating black-eyed peas at New Year’s to ensure prosperity for the next year. (Coincidentally enough, I happen to be listening to the Black Eyed Peas as I write this. No joke.)
This year, with our nest even more empty than normal, we had a subdued celebration. We couldn’t even melt tin like we used to, after our kitchen renovation this summer. Now we have an induction stove, which doesn’t work with our aluminum ladle. I even considered using my camping stove, firing it up on the kitchen counter, a bit like my brother and our hiking companion did years ago in a motel room in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to boil water for hot rum toddies one winter's night. It wasn’t good idea then, and not a good idea now – as my wife was quick to point out.
I didn’t follow my usual practice of buying – against my wife’s wishes – a packet of rockets for the one night of the year you can legally shoot them. We didn’t even bother with our stash of smaller fireworks left over from previous years. Without snow, shooting fireworks would have anyway been a problem this year. Usually, there’s almost a foot of snow everywhere in our neighborhood, providing the perfect surface for sticking rockets or roman candles into to hold them upright. This year, there was only bare and hard ground, which requires the use of store-bought or improvised rocket “launchers”. We weren’t motivated enough to buy or improvise any such contraptions.
This year, we just enjoyed the potato salad, hot dogs and sparkling wine, while watching the New Year’s programs on TV, before moving upstairs, as midnight approached, to watch fireworks from the balcony window.
Obviously, not everyone in our neighborhood was as deterred as we were by the lack of snow, and the countdown to midnight culminated, as it always does, in a climax of fiery streaks screaming into the black sky to explode in booming, technicolor bursts.
It’s hard to say whether there were more or fewer starbursts in the sky this year, though the next morning the air wasn’t as thick with the smell of gun smoke as most years and I didn’t see nearly as much rocket debris. (Often, the last of the blackened tubes of cardboard that are scattered across the neighborhood on New Year's Eve appear only during the springtime snowmelt). In any case, our neighbors treated us to a display of pyrotechnic celebration loud and flashy enough to compensate for our own low-key welcoming of the New Year.