Like our own world, the world of The Star-Runner Chronicles has many holidays. Sometimes sacred events, sometimes simply an excuse to break up the usual daily grind with a big party, holidays are a very important part of every culture. Two of the most important holidays occur in winter—Midwinter’s Night, which occurs on Decemb twenty-fifth, and Luminmas, which is celebrated from Decemb thirty first through Janyu second. So, grab some hot cocoa and a couple dozen gingerbread cookies, because we’re about to get festive.
Midwinter’s Night: The Festival of Warmth
Alright, so technically Midwinter’s Night falls not long after the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, but to be fair, in many temperate regions the weather can start to feel wintery as early as the end of Noven (November). For many people in earlier times, the weather outside meant a lot more in terms of what season it was than what the days, nights, and stars were up to!
Late autumn and early winter are very dreary times of the year. All of the trees are bare or nearly so, with the only green things left in most places being needle-leafed trees and evergreen shrubs. The days grow shorter, the weather grows bitterly cold, and the skies grow grayer all the time. At times like these, people search for comfort and warmth from any source they can find. This is where the holiday of Midwinter’s Night got its start.
At first, it grew out of the simple tradition of the women of the household knitting and sewing new winter clothes and outerwear for the family and patching up older cold weather outfits each year. These clothes were presented to their family members with great care and reverence, as they—along with the family hearth—were the only defense against the winter’s chill and were considered precious gifts.
Of course, the men of the family did their part as well. Not only did they sheer the sheep or goats for their wool and hunt deer, raccoons, and rabbits for their meat and warm pelts, but they also crafted wooden toys and musical instruments for entertainment during the cold and claustrophobic season, and storage containers for the pickled vegetables, dried fruits, flower, and grain which would provide the family with food during the winter. Everyone pitched in to ensure the family’s physical and mental survival in what was once nicknamed “The Season of House Arrest” due to the fact that no sane person would venture outside during the winter for more than a few quick minutes unless they seriously needed to.
In time, people of many races began to develop special songs, dances, and charms meant to ward off devils and evil spirits or attract good luck during the winter months. Some began hanging boughs of evergreens in their homes for the fragrant scent and the sake of having something green to look at until spring rolled around. Heck, the orcs started chopping down whole trees to decorate and freshen their homes in the wintertime! The gorgons started the tradition of hanging shiny tinsel on the walls and boughs of evergreen to reflect the light of the fire and brighten their homes, and the dragons began the tradition of holding a big celebratory feast or banquet to liven up the frosty gloom. In more affluent homes, people began giving their loved ones less practical gifts—like jewelry—along with more extravagant and expensive versions of the traditional warm clothes, musical instruments, and toys.
But, the holiday didn’t begin to resemble what it is at present very much until travelers from distant lands began spending Midwinter’s in foreign towns and parties of adventurers from diverse backgrounds began ending up spending the holiday together. It was then that people began to share their family and local traditions with each other, enriching the joy of Midwinter’s for their hosts or easing the homesickness of their companions. In turn, people continued with some of these new traditions long after parting ways with those who taught them to them, or taught their friends and families back home about these exotic traditions when they returned. This added onto the variety of traditional decorations, songs, and foods that were enjoyed the world over, and eventually led to an official date for the celebration.
In modern times, cheerful songs, bright and glittery decorations, live evergreen boughs and trees, feasting, and gift giving are all important parts of the Midwinter’s Night festivities for most people the world over. The most popular Midwinter’s gifts are still warm clothing, toys, and music (not only in the form of instruments, but now also in the form of sheet music, records, record players, music boxes, and—in some places—radios). However, books, playing cards, cameras, and board games have also become popular gifts for Midwinter’s, as well as cheesy seasonal novelty gifts like holiday mugs and clockwork dancing snowmen.
Recently, a few unscrupulous merchants have been trying to get people into the Midwinter’s Night spirit too early, though. Some have begun advertising Midwinter’s sales as early as Harvest Tide (a feast typically celebrated on the last Friday of Noven), and a few have even stooped so low as to start advertising Midwinter’s deals as early as the Starlight Festival (Octbare twenty-seventh through the thirty first)! While some people like the convenience, most people find the early holiday marketing annoying, disrespectful, and just plain in poor taste.
Luminmas: The New Year’s Festival
Ah, Luminmas. Unlike Midwinter’s Night or New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in our own Western culture, Luminmas is a sacred holiday. Not only does Luminmas mark the transition from one year to another, it is also a celebration in honor of the creation of the Earth and all of the hard work that the gods put into making it the place it is. On the first day of Luminmas, people spend the entire day cleaning and tidying their homes to symbolize the reorganization of the universe.
Of course, before the Luminmas cleaning, people often say a prayer for success in the undertaking (which is especially important for very large and very messy homes) and thanks to the gods for cleaning up the cosmos to make room for the Earth. Everyone in the household (or, for the very wealthy or royal, all of the servants) pitches in with the cleaning unless they’re too sick or under the age of two. After the cleaning is through—or at six p.m., whichever comes first—there then comes a prayer of thanks for all of the hard work accomplished that day and the ceremonial banquet is prepared.
For wealthy people and royalty, the ceremonial banquet is typically held in their own private home. For most people, however, the ceremonial Luminmas banquet is a community event. Every household prepares some sort of hors d’oeuvre to contribute, in memory of the fact that it took contributions from all of the gods to recreate the universe, and the festival begins in earnest when all who are able to attend are assembled.
The festivities begin with a prayer, usually said by either the town’s highest ranking cleric, a mayor or chieftain, or the master of the house. In a pinch, generals, ships’ captains, and even store managers have performed this holy rite. Really, the only requirement to lead the ceremony is that the person has to be the highest ranked individual available. After the prayer, everyone is served a small glass of mulled wine from a ceremonial vat to drink slowly and savor its flavors, a gesture of taking in the essence of life and being grateful for it. Of course, in places and times where wine is not available, beer, ale, and even rum have been used as substitutes, and in some communities or families the children are served apple cider or some other fruit juice concoction instead. The latter trend has become more prevalent in places where age restrictions for the consumption and purchasing of alcoholic beverages are strictly enforced.
After this, everyone gets to eat and dance until a minute until midnight. That is when everyone is gathered together to witness the beginning of the new year together. Usually, they are all gathered around a large tower clock, an illuminated ball, or some other mechanical device which has been set to do something special at the stroke of midnight or in the ten seconds before it. Often, everyone is handed a bell, horn, or other noise making apparatus as well. At the precise stroke of midnight, everyone uses their noise makers all at once or cheers, and any nearby bells, chimes, gongs, or drums are sounded in commemoration of the grand party the gods threw to celebrate the creation of the Earth and reconstruction of the universe. In some places, fireworks are even set off. Then, there is even more dancing, eating, and drinking (and, often, this is when sleepy children are whisked off to bed) until about two in the morning.
On the second day of Luminmas, not a single shop is open and everyone gets to sleep in, in commemoration of the time the gods spent recovering from their creation party. In the afternoon, a prayer is said in thanks for all of the blessings of the previous year and for good fortune in the one which has just begun. Sweet-smelling incense or candles are burned in many homes and temples, and in some places people make resolutions for the new year or make some sort of physical change to mark the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. For instance, elves from the city of Ethrennelle don’t cut their hair all year until the second day of Luminmas, where they shave their heads completely bald to symbolize a fresh start in the new year. In the mostly human city of Doowwit, people gather up their underwear from the previous year and burn it in a giant bonfire for the same reason. Others don’t do anything at all besides hug the porcelain and vow never to drink alcohol again…a vow which many break inside a month.
Well, that does it for this week, folks! I have my own winter holiday celebrations to enjoy, but join me on Sunday, January 4th for a piece on the ancient shapeshifting experts known as the therinai. Until then, you can check out The Rebirth and Awakening of Wolfie Star-Runner and Wolfie Star-Runner Plays with Hellfire on Amazon.com (print and kindle ebook versions available) and Createspace.com (print book only). You can also check me out on Twitter at @DanielleVFreman, learn about me at a glance on my Pintrest page, or just tool around here and archive binge. Also, if you like my blog or books (or know someone who would) don’t forget to share the love with your friends! Happy Holidays, everyone, and a happy New Year! XD