Amidst the bustle of the close-to-Christmas season, a new holiday tradition is taking shape in Boston.
For the second year, dozens seeking a peaceful reprieve came to a candle-lit peace walk at the Armenian Heritage Park labyrinth on Sunday night.
Just a few steps from the swarm of shoppers at Faneuil Hall, visitors to the event were invited to slowly walk the Greenway labyrinth’s winding path and expunge some holiday hang-ups in the process, writing notes about their troubles on ribbons to be tied on a “wish tree” in the glow of several dozen luminary bags.
“It’s all just meant as a respite from the busy holiday season to do something that’s a little more quiet,” said Beth Burnham Mace, one of the event’s organizers and the president of the Labyrinth Guild of New England.
For Jeanne Gibson Sullivan, who was among the small crowd of organizers’ friends and passersby Sunday night, the walk was a chance to remember her late father, whose 90th birthday would have been Sunday.
“He was a World War II vet and a peacekeeper,” she said.
The four-member Tomaszczuk family was there, too. They stopped by after leaving Faneuil, before heading home to Melorse.
“It’s a break from the chaos,” Nick Tomaszczuk said. After they walked the labyrinth together, he also wrote a message on a ribbon: “Watch over my family.”
“So much peace is needed,” said Susan Deranian, a friend of one of the park’s overseers, as she watched revelers walk the stone pathway – some in pairs, some alone. “Every little bit helps.”
An out-of-towner and fan of the healing powers of labyrinths was behind the idea.
Christine Osterwalder, a professor from Hawaii originally from California, first contacted the labyrinth’s keepers last summer. Osterwalder told Metro she comes to Boston every year to celebrate the holidays with family and wanted to give something back to the city on her visit last year.
“I come here and have a good time with people, but I felt like I needed to do something bigger, something that would connect with other people and strangers,” she said.
The event last year attracted around 200 people, about two-dozen of whom wrote little messages on ribbons, organizers said.
“We had people who talked about problems like addiction, things they offered up in some way,” Osterwalder said. “So it became a way to let go of things on a personal level.”
Among the inscriptions from last year: “Educate women,” “Peace and security in Venezuela,” “Ferguson, MO.”
“I wish for everything,” wrote one anonymous attendee.
Osterwalder has kept the ribbons ever since, but there are plans now to add them all to a wreath – and to add to it every year.
Labyrinths, which have played a role in meditation for thousands of years, have been surging in popularity in landscaping and in places like college campuses over the past 20 years, and they’ve attracted a following, Mace said.
As president of a group dedicated to the spaces, Mace maintains a list of all the labyrinths she can find in the region and organizes regular meet-ups of enthusiasts who get together to slowly walk their swirling patterns. She said she has built a few herself, including one on the grounds of MCI Framingham, the correctional facility for women.
“Somehow the weaving allows people to center themselves,” Mace said, adding, “the beautiful thing is there is no real dogma attached to it. … It’s the integration of people’s faiths.”
Osterwalder said her mini-obsession with labyrinths began when she was a graduate student of theology in San Francisco. There aren’t many labyrinths in Hawaii, she said, but there are several in the Boston area.
For Bostonians who couldn’t make it out to the Sunday night walk-through, Osterwalder said she hoped people would find some other way to relax at a time when gift-buying and party-planning can suck up so much of the holiday spirit.
“It’s easy to get caught up in all the activities,” she said. “I would encourage people to find their own quiet space.”