Happy New Year!
When it comes to New Year’s celebrations there are as many traditions as there are people. My family eats Steak and Lobster with champagne, the idea being that you eat the way you’d like to eat for the rest of the year. So we ate well, in the hopes the coffers would stay full enough for such extravagance.
There are other traditions (superstitions?) I am thinking of adding to my own personal repertoire. Sweep your house of dirt and mess before midnight to symbolize ridding yourself of the past year’s trash. I know those raised in the south eat black eyed peas in the New Year. The more you eat, the richer you’ll be in the coming year.
In South America, folks pack a suitcase and carry it around the block at midnight to symbolize travel in the New Year. It might be worth carting a bag through the snowy Idaho streets if it brings more travel into my life!
A few more interesting traditions: Wear red underwear, you’ll find love. Burn your Christmas tree outside to cleanse the past and make way for the future. Fireworks might be pretty and the big boom fun, but the original use of fire and loud noises outside at midnight was to chase away any evil attempting come into your life.
The writer and historian in me loves these traditional ideas, but I’ve got my own tradition that has taken precedence the past few years.
I wake up and make my coffee and have a little mimosa and check the weather report.
About 10am my good friend Michele and her husband, Tom, pick me up. I wave good bye to my family and we make the thirty-minute drive to a little place here in Boise called Spring Shores. On the edge of Lucky Peak Lake.
Bundled warmly, we take ourselves and our hefty bags down to join about two hundred other kindred souls all mingling and watching the sun rise on the crisp New Year’s morning.
It’s 13 degrees this morning by the edge of the water, but the real ‘feel’ is 8 degrees.
No matter, the music is lively as are the spirits of my tribe.
As we get closer to 11am, there is a rise in the viscosity of excitement. The noise level rises, the group comes a bit closer toward each other.
Five minutes until 11am and it’s no nonsense now. We’re all mentally preparing for what we’re about to do. As much as you can prepare for something like this.
You see, my New Year’s tradition is baptism by ice water.
At one-minute til, Michele and I drop our heavy blankets, our last refuge of warmth, and in only bathing suits, cross the snowy path that leads to the lakes edge to join our fellow thrill seekers.
The countdown begins, just as exciting as the countdown the night before. It’s difficult to hear the music and the announcer now. Because all you can hear is the growing din of participants psyching themselves up. A wall of sound and fury that becomes a rising howl directed toward the arctic waters.
The first time I did this, Michele took my hand and looked at me excitedly and gave the sage advice, “Don’t think. Just run.”
I repeat that advice in my mind as the mob continues to scream the countdown; a warning to the chilly water or ourselves, I’m not sure.
Five, four, three, two, one….
Don’t think, just run.
And I do.
And the water is a million knives pricking my skin. My body is shocked by the moment, I fight to breathe. I push forward, attempting to get into water up to my knees so I can dive under. (In my world, it doesn’t count unless it’s full immersion.)
Motivated now, I stand and turn back toward the shore. I get a brief glimpse at the life of the salmon in my attempt to head back to shore. Those who haven’t yet had a chance to take part rush past me as I attempt to go upstream.
There are shrieks of laughter and ‘fucks!’ yelled out. I myself slip an “oh Shit!” as I try to make it back to Michele’s husband, our lifeline on the shore. The man whose standing with our bags and most importantly our towels.
I laugh, caught in the moment. A few howls of excited screams slip out! Woo Hoo! Holy Shit! Why did I just do that? I love that I just did that!
It’s a cold that is under the skin; a cold so embedded now that things like toes and fingers are quite without feeling. My toes are the worst for the moment, I shake and try to put socks and boots back on. Once those are on, I slip on my hat and giant blanket and begin to feel some semblance of warmth seeping back in.
I take a few breaths to look around and soak up this moment best I can. It’s not warm enough to linger. Tents are provided for people to change out of bathing suits and into warm clothes; but there isn’t enough room in said tents and the whole thing becomes an exercise in standing in one place and freezing. So we’ve opted to begin our hike up, back toward the parking area. The hike helps defrost toes and heat us up enough so we’re able to change once we get to the car.
I love this crazy tradition of mine. I love the idea of washing away the muck and debris from the previous year and baptizing myself anew in the chilled waters.
Will I do it again next year? Of course I will.
Side note: This isn’t just a bunch of crazy people jumping in a lake on New Years. This is for a good cause, the Make a Wish foundation. We raise money by jumping in the lake. And it’s a good thing, because let’s be honest, if there wasn’t a ‘good cause’ attached to this, then we really would be a bunch of morons jumping in a lake.
Oh, and other than the baptism of water on New Year’s day; I do this whole thing for a free t-shirt!