For 21 years, a small group of San Franciscans have gathered on Ocean Beach to symbolically expurgate the previous year’s woe by collecting discarded Christmas trees from around the city and setting them on fire.
As rituals go, the Post-Yule Pyre isn’t too far from various pagan ceremonies. People of all ages gather for the event, which is brief by necessity and by science. Christmas trees are dried husks, and they burn fast. Also: throw several dozen dead trees in a pile and ignite them, and good luck not attracting the police – even if you are at the southwestern corner of town, on a dark beach.
There were young children that parents kept a respectful distance from the flames, and there were heads of gray hair a good deal closer. I didn’t know anybody there, but when we met up at the Java Beach Cafe – the latest resting place of the last of the Doggie Diner heads – it became apparent that this would have more than a couple dozen folks. As a group, we dragged the gathered trees to the beach, and invited the curious onlookers to leave their living rooms and join us. The waning moon had not yet risen, and the tide was on its way in, so we were bereft of both light and the heady smell of outgoing salt water.
This wouldn’t last long. The trees were piled up and people fell into a circle around them, and the light waft of pine needles was soon replaced with smoke and the roar of the flames. We could see the steam evaporating from the wet sand beneath the pyre, adding a slightly ethereal quality to the event.
I didn’t notice the police presence until they gruffly asked us all to leave, but apparently they’d been watching us for some time. This blog post summarizes the event nicely, and why it’s a carbon-neutral event.
As quickly as we had gathered the trees and built the pyre, we dispersed. Some went for drinks at the Riptide, and the majority of us went home. My 2009 wasn’t the horrible-no-good year that others have had, but it wasn’t great. Maybe a little ritualistic fire is all the spark that 2010 needs to get going.