Repetition is a component of all ascetic traditions, and I like to think that my own habits constitute something like a spiritual discipline. My nature bends toward listlessness and disorder. Resolving to do the same thing each day, at the same time, has given my life a center, insulating me from the siren song of novelty and distraction that has caused me so much unhappiness in the past. I live a monotonous life, which is not to say a tedious one. (I believe, with Rilke, that those who find life dull are not poet enough to call forth its riches.) And I imagine that these tightly circumscribed days are radiating, with each turn of the circle, into widening arcs, amounting to a life whose ties are deeper, whose direction is more certain.
For several years, we’ve had a Christmas Eve ritual of going to Boar’s Head Resort in the evening for a contemplative stroll. It’s a combination of a wealthy neighborhood, an office park, and a small hotel, among other things, owned by the university. The hotel and many of the adjacent buildings had a Tudor design that I’ve always loved, and the decorations at Christmas were always delightful. The restaurant and hotel were always open on Christmas Eve, and occasionally a church group would rent one of the meeting rooms for a holiday party, but mostly, it was easy to stroll around in the dark without seeing anyone else, beyond the occasional member of the cleaning staff, or a late delivery driver finishing their work for the day. There’s something especially poignant about memories that are specific to one day per year. Every time I run my hand along the thick oak beam that serves as a handrail on the footbridge, or wander around the big office complex listening to the gravel crunch underfoot, or sit on one of the swinging benches overlooking the lake, or peek in the entryway to the building with all the nutcrackers and elves surrounding the fireplace, I’m struck all at once by a strange but pleasant sense of temporal disconnect. It’s been a year already, but it feels like an instant. The memory is so vivid, it’s as if I never left.
This year, the Lady of the House drew my attention to an ominous sight on their webpage: an official event called the Winter Wander. I was leery, but I don’t give up my rituals without a fight. Maybe it would be possible to still partake of a free, and free-range, walk around without having to participate in a garish group event, at twenty bucks a head, promising grotesqueries such as “multiple Instagram-worthy moments.” Well, the pictures don’t do it justice: it’s even worse in person than it looks online. Crowds of people in what used to be an empty parking lot. Warm white lights replaced by gaudy blue/green/purple atrocities that would have been more appropriate for a Haunted Hayride-style attraction. A food truck. And “best” of all, a light sculpture in the shape of a giant boar. We drove through, past the directions of the parking lot attendant, muttering oaths of disbelief, before turning around and heading home.
I understand that the plague has forced businesses which depend on travel and tourism to prostitute themselves for funds, but this…this was “we had to destroy Christmas Village in order to save it.” The Director of Special Events says this was the inaugural year for this event, which obviously carries the implied threat of future assaults. My secret, sacred retreat has become a monstrous megachurch. I suppose I’m condemned to exile now, wandering the earth, or at least the neighborhoods within a thirty-minute drive or so, in search of a new Christmas Eve ritual, where the lights are subdued, the decorations are tasteful, the footpaths are deserted, and the architecture is Tudor-style.