Sunday, December 13, 2009

Into the Breach!

Last night I went, for the first time ever, to William & Mary's Yule Log ceremony. They've been doing it for almost 80 years, with a brief pause for WWII, and it's become firmly rooted in the annual student life.

The president of the college reads a Christmas book (this year it was "The Grinch") while dressed as Santa, there's singing, and the yule log is marched into the Wren Building where it is placed into the big fireplace. The students are each given a piece of a holly branch, into which they place all their cares of the year. They then process into the building and cast the branch into the fire.

I had a lot to cast off this year, so it sounded like a great idea.

Vivian and I got there a few minutes late, so the story was almost over, but we discovered to our grateful surprise that we had wandered into the right side of the Wren Courtyard to have easy access to the front of the line. And that's when it got ugly.

As soon as the great doors were opened, a crushing force of probably 2000 people began heaving from the right, and as we were on the left, we nearly got toppled. And trampled.

A voice cried out from behind us, "Into the breach!" And a force from behind pushed us forward just as hard as the previous push to the left.

And then it stopped. We'd moved all of 5 feet. There was confusion all around, though somehow visible was a clear line of force coming at a diagonal from the center of the courtyard. Tall bodies were at incorrect angles.

Then it came again. And again. Time and again a force from the right would be followed by a force from behind, and each time we could have lifted our feet without falling, it was so crushing. And then the tide would ebb.

After about 6 or 7 surges, we finally got to the steps. By this time, the group around us had become a cohesive unit, working to secure our position while turning strong backs to the advancing crowd. We struggled to keep the pressure off the women, continue to advance, and even swapped places to provide the best cover for each other.

Two or three more strong surges were necessary to get up the 5 steps and through the door, and even then Vivian had to pull me bodily through the throng and into...a big empty room.

Ok, seriously? We just did battle with 2000 people, left men behind, and all for an empty room? It took a minute to absorb the new surroundings, but we soon realized that the small throng in front of us were waiting patiently to reach the great fireplace.

When we did get there, probably less than a minute later, we realized why it was so hard to get in: each person or group of people was posing for up to 20 seconds for their friends to take pictures of them standing in front of the fireplace.

Really, people? In 20 years, you're telling me you're going to look back at that picture and say, "Wow, that really brings back memories."? Because you're standing in a big empty room with a twig, smiling like an idiot. Move the fuck over.

But I really did enjoy the experience. I missed out on it during college, being way too self-absorbed and above such stuff. And I feel like I really was able to throw some of my craptastic year away.


Deistbrawler said...

Ahh to be small and know what it's like to have people push you around.

On second thought I'm glad I've never really had to experience that.

Congrats sir! On your epic journey. I hope this year is better for a lot of us.

Dag Nabbit said...

This sounds awesome! We had a very similar experience at Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island last summer, ten bazillion people, thronging together in ethnic groups, taking pictures of each other and blocking the entire walking path.

This all happened in 35C (95F) heat. We got crushed pretty bad when the Japanese crowd spotted the zen garden area and stormed it in spite of the german defenses.

BTW D-brawl, I am 6'4" and was 295 lbs then, and my wife is about 2 inches shorter than me. The mob had us, though, both in height and weight, once you add them all up. :)

Hopefully next year if you go to the Yule Log, you bring SWAT shields and mace, always useful around the holidays!