If you’re ever in my home town on December 30th and you happen to drive past the church around 1 or 2pm, you might well see a group of twenty-somethings walking towards to the churchyard. They will walk solemnly, in a file, hand in hand, shoulder by shoulder. They will stop by the grave in the very last row on your right and you can see the group gather around the couple in the middle, creating a neat half circle around her, him and his father. As the rain mists our faces and our eyes we stand in silence.
I agree: it seems a strange way to end three days of debauchery.
For the last ten years we have been using the days between Boxing Day and New Years Eve to spend time together. Of course as we changed over the years, our friendship evolved similarly and yes, perhaps we are closer to some than others, yet we still all join the festivities. In less philosophical terms this means: set up camp at groupsaccommodation, watch films projected on a sheet on the wall – our beamer gives us an inhouse cinema, drink (a lot of) beer, cook 3 course meals together, eat together, sleep in one room together and play games.
With these I do not just mean boardgames, I mean elaborate games which take couple of days to play and take months of preparation. In the past we have had Real-life Cluedo, several variations on television game shows, competitions between the boys and girls, three day quests where we get the clues through pre-made DVD’s, CD’s and other messages. We compete for stock, coins, relics or points by solving puzzles, codes or by three leg races, treasure hunts in the woods or by participating in our own X-factor style beer cantus. (To those unfamiliar: cantus = singing, beer = well, any alcohol – you do the maths.) The competition is fierce, the organising committee’s always wrong, we quarrel, we protest, we banter and we laugh – god we laugh a lot.
Still, on the 30th of December you can find us at the churchyard standing silently in the rain. Each of us different, we stand together alone with our thoughts. Eyes mist up with memories of loved ones lost and the excruciating heartache of inevitable losses still to come. Hands are squeezed, arms pull waists closer, kisses are placed on foreheads.
Together we celebrate friendship in its entirety and by standing there we renew our vows: to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, until death do us part.