Burning of the old man!

Posted in Goa by Priya Ramachandran.

Burning of the old man!

Most of you probably associate New Year’s Eve with Goa... A boozy montage of crazy ‘beach parties’, merry dancing and wild nightlife illustrating your idea of this party land. But what you don’t know is that right around the same time that revellers from all over the world are bringing in New Year’s Eve either at perpetual traffic jams or at overpriced, smoke-filled and sweaty dance floors, an old tradition still burns strong in the tiny villages of Goa. Quite literally! In a practice that dates back generations, children from various neighbourhoods make an effigy of an old man and burn him at midnight to mark the ringing out of the old and the ringing in of the new.

While I can’t find much information on how or why this symbolic custom originated here (Goans in the know, help me out!), there’s much to reason to believe that this tradition could have crept into Goa when it was a Portuguese Colony. In fact, in strikingly similar practices in places like Colombia, New Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba, ‘Mr Old Year’ or Old Man Gloom’, an embodiment of the year gone by, is set ablaze in order to welcome the promising new year with a clean slate.

Old Man by the Foro Boys of St. Estevam
Old Man by the Foro Boys of St. Estevam

I had never heard of this quirky tradition until earlier in the evening when we were driving around the villages near Old Goa only to encounter the most adorable roadblocks — local kids asking for donations to save their ailing old straw men. These old men effigies come in all sizes, shapes and production quality. Some of them sport long beards and suits and others are propped on a chair in total Sussegad style with a cigarette cockily sticking out of their mouth. Most of them held a bottle of alcohol in their hands reminiscent of the typical village drunk. It was fun to watch the excited kids ambush every passing vehicle in the hope of earning a small donation for their old men. Later at midnight, the community bid goodbye to these old men as they set them on fire. The ones stuffed with fireworks literally go out with a bang. Even for those on whom the allegory of the old man and the past year is lost, there’s enough reason to celebrate as the donations collected are then used throw a party in the neighbourhood! A happy new year indeed!

Old Man reading a newspaper
An ‘Old Man’ reads a newspaper, oblivious to the fact that he will be burned later at night.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to burn our old men (metaphorical ones, of course) too! Here’s to an awesome 2015!

A passed out ‘Old Man’
A passed out ‘Old Man’

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