Better than New Year’s Resolutions–A Ritual that Really Works

Lorna Tedder, adding a little spice to life…or at least to a wonderful Winter Solstice feast.    Photo by Aislinn Bailey; all rights reserved.

Most people I know make New Year’s resolutions, manage to give up on them in defeat within two weeks, and feel like failures for the rest of the year because they couldn’t manifest a handful of changes in their lives in a few days’ time. I do something different, something that really works for me.  I call it the Burning Bowl Ritual, and it’s perfect for Winter Solstice, New Year’s Eve, or even special occasions throughout the year.   I’ve designed a ritual around it, one that can be adapted to almost any occasion or spiritual gathering.

Here’s how I adapted my usual ritual for a Winter Solstice “feast” that includes guests of all religions:

The timing of the Burning Bowl ritual is important to me.  I prefer to do it on the day of the Winter Solstice because of the symbolism.  Not only is this the longest night of the year, but it’s the day many cultures and religions celebrate the “Return of the Light,” as the days begin to lengthen after this night.  It’s also the first degree of Capricorn, an astrological symbol of manifestation–and the beginning of the new year of manifestation–whether you call those intentions or resolutions.  

For this year’s Burning Bowl ritual, once our feast was complete, I handed out sheets of paper to each guest and asked them to draw a big T on the paper. This was their personal list to take home, so they can put away their list and review it later in the year.   On the left column, they were to write down the things they want to honor and bid farewell to in the coming year.  Saying goodbye to these things will make room for better things to come.  I gave examples from my own list for the year:

Fretting over the lack of ——– in my life

Any insecurity or jealousy over ——–

Worry about ——-

Most of my dinner guests chose things like bad health habits, obsessions over certain people, money worries, unfulfilling jobs, and long-carried emotional pain.

Once they were done with the things they wanted to say goodbye to, I had them turn their attention to the right column and write down things that they welcomed in for the next year.  Not things they resolved to do.  Not things they “invited” in, but may not come.  Rather, things they “welcomed” in because that implies that these things are definitely coming to them and they’ll be happy to have these things in their lives.  In my experience, the majority of things in this list arrive effortlessly throughout the course of the coming year.  I gave a few examples from my own very long list for 2009, beginning on Winter Solstice 2008:

Continue and expand my social circle and spiritual circle of friends and students, with wonderful lessons coming to me and from me

More loving relationships with family, friends, and daughters

An amazing, fun, intimate, creative, and intense sex life –and for my partner to be able to keep up with me

Learning new  things and meeting new people, including things like knife-throwing, archery, and motorcycles

Business opportunities that bring me many different streams of abundantly flowing income and allow me to be mobile in my workspace and hours

A deepening of my romantic love relationship with ————, to include much happiness, serenity, and a ————

My dinner guests welcomed in a huge variety of things that were very personal to each.  I thought that was funny that we tended to want to get rid of the same things that weighed us down but what we wish to come into our lives was quite diverse.  I loved some of the younger guests’ desires for good mentors, career guidance, confidence, and many of the things that my older guests didn’t consider until they heard these later.  I was amazed at the maturity of some of the youngest guests when it came to participating in this exercise.

When everyone finally had their list completed, I asked them to consider a verb for the next year and a simple phrase or mantra.  These are, in effect, my themes for the next year, and usually go hand in hand. I have to pick the exact words, and that sometimes means digging out the thesaurus to make sure each word has exactly the connotation I’m looking for.   My themes for the past few years and for the coming year?

2006:  Manifest  and Risk Everything

2007:  Enjoy and Allow Miracles

2008:  Thrive and  Celebrate Everything

2009:  Enchant and Be Delighted


My guests began to think of their themes for the next year, some brainstorming with others to come up with the perfect word. Once they had their themes, they committed them to memory for later in the evening.  They chose words like Relax, Recalibrate, Have Fun, Be Adventurous, Succeed, Liberate Myself, Accept, Live Life to the Fullest.

For the next part of the evening, I brought out wine glass goblets that I’d bought for 50 cents each from a local pottery store.  I could have gone with plastic champagne glasses but I wanted something that my guests could take away with them.  I’d also tried to find those little rings–wine glass jewelry–that dangle from the stem, but couldn’t find them anywhere in town.  While walking through a discount store after a sushi lunch with my eldest child, I happened on an earring display and found not what I was looking for but something better.  I picked out about 10 pairs of deeply discounted gemstone and shell hoop earrings that closed the hoop with a clasp.  Each fit perfectly around the stem of a wine glass and made a nice souvenir to be imbued with the energies of the evening and taken away as a souvenir, to be worn later, attached to a car mirror or lamp pull, etc.

Next, I handed out little inventory tags to my guests.  These were purchased at the local Office Max in the section where they sell tags and stickers for garage sales.  Each tag was about 2 inches long, with a string attached.  My guests wrote a symbol, picture, or word on the tags to represent what they wanted to say goodbye to and placed the tags in the goblet’s bowl.  These were placed inside the glass because their cups are already full of these things.

My guests then wrote symbols, pictures, and words on the tags to represent things they wanted to welcome for the coming year.  They tied these tags to the stem of the glass and let them dangle.

For the actual ritual, I’d hoped to gather in my backyard, but the below-freezing weather made it impractical, so we moved my grandmother’s aged cauldron into my open garage and started a very small fire in the cauldron, which served as our burning bowl instead of the usual barbecue fire pit in the backyard.

We formed a circle around the burning bowl, each of us holding a candle.  I lit mine and then then person’s next to me, she lit her neighbor’s on the left, and so forth until the circle was complete.  Because our guests were of varying spiritual backgrounds,  we asked the Archangels–something common to most belief systems present–to witness our intentions.

After some brief explanations about the symbolism of the ritual, each guest tossed tags from inside their glasses into the fire, saying goodbye to the things that no longer serve them and that they wish to get rid of in the coming year.  Some called out these things proudly.  Most performed this part of the ritual silently, as was their perogative.

Then, one by one, and in no particular order, the guests allowed me to cut the tags from the stems, leaving evidence of their desires in place around the stem, and offered the tags representing things to be welcomed in into the fire, with our intentions carried away by the smoke to come to fruition over the next year.  Some of the guests were exhuberant at this point and it was so much fun to see them enjoying this and feeling so much lighter and more hopeful.

When all the tags were gone, I then offered each guest a choice of grape juice or champagne and filled their glasses.  We each called out our themes for the new year and toasted to them, clinking our glasses.  Then we closed our evening with thanks to the Archangels for bearing witness.

The biggest difference, I think, in this Burning Bowl ritual filled with intentions toward what we welcome in and the usual resolving to do  a host of things that will get rid of bad habits to that so many of our intentions are not things we actually have to go do (and fail at) ourselves.  These are more like a wish list to God, the Universe, Goddess, or whatever belief system you follow so that we allow Deity to bring these to us and we simply welcome them when they get here.  Since I’ve been doing these Burning Bowl rituals, about 90% of my desires are fulfilled within the first 8 months of the year–and some are ones I just never thought would have happened, and certainly not on my own.

As for this year, only 48 hours after the ritual, I’ve already had two unexpected things to welcome in that are stepping stones:  1.  I have reconnected with someone from my past whom I thought was lost to me and 2.  a colleague (who didn’t attend the party) dropped by my house to wish me a happy holiday and loaned me 3 sets of weighted knives so I can learn to throw them!