Dominating the scene is a massive bonfire fuelled by wooden crates, haphazardly stacked building blocks glowing angrily amid the sway of flames. The wind tilts the fire until it might lie down and crawl across the field if left unattended by the thousands who guard it with stares of reverence.
The shadowy faces betray the human element when the light falls directly or partially on the eyes and noses and cheeks of the revelers. Bodies and hands and heads swim in warmth: beanies, scarves, hoods with fur; ski jackets, dress jackets, down jackets; dress shoes, hiking boots, knee-high black boots. My phone allocates me to a location, Gardhahreppur, and insists that it is two degrees Celsius, which, even with the breeze, is comfortable beside the flames.
Flurries of fire, rather than snow, float over the heads with climatic regularity. They extinguish themselves on their flight, like meteorites entering the stratosphere, or else come to rest as rubies on the patch of frosty ground beyond the crowd.
The tunes broadcast from some indeterminable source warble in the background. The music is loud enough to encourage celebration, but not loud enough to deafen the crackle of burning crates or to stifle conversation. The voices of my hosts and the squeals of the children, popping and zapping like the sparklers they wield, rise and fall in the natural cadence of friends and family creating memories.
The loudspeaker sounds with a man’s voice. “The fireworks will start in ten minutes,” translates Ommi. And so it does. The sky is alive and dazzling, whistling and squealing, a rain of lights and a string of thunder.
Cheers erupt and cheeks are kissed to welcome in the New Year. We leave the fire to its gradual demise, and we all go home, to pick up our lives from yesterday.