Fireworks? No, firearms.
The use of guns in holiday festivities, although it seems to be waning in the Serbian capital, is still a source of trepidation for most of us mild mannereds and law abiders. I still remember stories of a poor soul who hid behind closed shutters in his New Belgrade apartment only to be shot and killed anyway by a stray bullet which was shot in the air under the bacchanal frenzy of welcoming the New Year. Or the story of the lady who, many blocks away from any action, was beaned by a descending bullet finding its way back to earth, and went less-than-gently into the good night. These stories may be Belgrade apocrypha, or just urban myth, but when you see guns pointed at the air from windows, it makes you wonder what could happen.
When I was a boy, in rural Iowa, we were all banned from touching fireworks. My father or my grandfather handled the bottle rockets, firecrackers, and roman candles. We were warned of the dangers of putting out eyes and blowing off fingers. But no one told me that people were actually taking up real weapons in a shootout against the New Year...
And yet, the Los Angeles Times ran an article last month where the police warned citizens that it was a felony to shoot guns at midnight, while the Miami Herald quoted a police major saying shooting guns was "ridiculous and stupid."
So it is not only here...
Shooting at midnight, although I have never indulged (much less ever handled a gun at all), must give a huge sense of power. It must feel wildly uncivilized and free. To be able to cause a huge noise from an instrument whose intended purpose is to kill or injure living beings must bring an unfettered sense of Man's Dominion over the World. It is a declaration of "Imperium in Imperio."
That is until someone gets killed.
In the meantime, the main source of New Year's tragedy comes from road accidents. The deathtoll at holidays is always higher than usual and one town in the US state of Georgia brought a grim solution. A funeral parlor was offering free funerals to anyone who stated that they would be drinking and driving on New Year's Eve.*
What does it all mean? Does it mean that we need danger and the threat of death to really enjoy ourselves? Do we need to appease the gods of the new year with ritual sacrifice? It seems we squeezed into 2010 without major incident, which should be good news. But perhaps the news only means that we are in for trouble this year.
Not to worry. We still have Serbian New Year ahead to tip the balance.
Happy New Year, everyone.
(Don't shoot anybody.)