“To the world we dream about, and the one we live in now.”
—"Livin' It Up on Top," by Anaïs Mitchell, Hadestown
Every January, my friends and I gather to celebrate the new year with a ritual that I call “toast, boast, and oath.” This practice is loosely based upon the old Germanic & Anglo “symbel” or “sumbel,” which means feast. I learned of this modern interpretation from an old friend of mine. We sit in a circle with our favorite mugs or goblets filled with apple juice. After each person speaks in each round, everyone raises their mugs in cheerful acknowledgment and takes a sip.
First around the circle, each person takes a turn offering a “toast.” The “toast” is a moment of gratitude, sending words of blessing and thanks to someone. It’s lovely to begin with this practice of gratitude because it often leads to greater generosity of spirit as the ritual continues.
The second round of the ritual is the “boast.” This is an opportunity for each of us to reflect upon something we’re proud of accomplishing in the past year—whether it’s small or grand.
And the third round of the ritual is the “oath.” This is a promise that we each make for the new year. I like to keep it simple by making it one word answer (it’s easier to hold up the oath if you keep it simple). This one-word “oath” helps me set an intention, and guide me through the coming year.
Last year, for example, my word was “courage.” Courage is no easy choice. I had to be brave, take risks, and be willing to surrender my perfectionism and be honest about what I need—and sometimes in 2023, that meant rest or having the courage to say a “holy no” in order to say a “hell, yes!”
2024 is coming in hot with many issues of justice in a world that’s hurting and in conflict, so it’s appropriate that I pick a blazingly strong oath. I’m choosing the word vulnerability. This word accompanies many challenges for me: to speak hard truths, to ask for help, to side with love—even when it’s uncomfortable. Oaths are an opportunity to grow in spirit.
What “toast, boast, and oath” might you offer this January?
With the dawn of a new year, may we build upon a vision of grace and liberation, deepening our commitments to each other and to the wider community. Let us be vulnerable and courageous as collaborators in creating a more loving world. And may we remember to observe and celebrate the beauty and wonder that surrounds and sustains us. Blessed be.