June 25th – The Festival of Saving the Babies

If you are from Litancha, you might have heard terrible tales of today’s festival, horror stories of the chase gone wrong, babies wantonly killed. These stories are without a shred of evidence or truth, and are based on a lie, a deliberate misrepresentation of the festival as a way of discrediting Buentoille shortly after the Revolution. The ruling elite of Litancha were scared that a similar revolution would occur in their metropolis, that the sorely downtrodden and exploited working classes would rightfully rise up against those who live with obscene decadence on the fruits of their labour.

The lies were originally told by Sincharo Savalle, a propagandist from Litancha who travelled to Buentoille to see for herself the poverty and violent anarchy unleashed by the Revolution. Obviously she found nothing of the sort, save for the deaths caused by the occasional monarchist attack. Times were hard immediately after the Revolution, but folk understood the need to stick together, and were managing well. By 1919, when Savalle arrived, food was no longer in shortage, and she was met with scenes of midsummer revelry and plenty. Buentoillitants were optimistic about their future. Savalle was rather disappointed.

Of course, the truth is no obstacle for a propagandist, although they sometimes need some inspiration to make their lies interesting and compelling. For Savalle, this came in the form of the Festival of Saving the Babies, who used it to portray the City as a barbaric zone where real babies, not dolls, are cast down a hillside. Alongside this stark image she reported in the Litanchan tabloid, The Daily Posting, that there were cannibals and murderers roaming the streets, and seems to re-written whole sections from Vimm Guman’s Devyls Island in which infants are boiled alive by witches. All of this she wrote whilst cheerfully eating her morning eggs in a Buentoilliçan bed and breakfast.

Ironically enough, today’s festival that was so aggressively slandered actually had rather un-Revolutionary beginnings; it was started by the mayor of Guilgamot district, Aereme Filuto, a rich courtier who had inherited the position from her father, the builder of the Grand Boulevard some years before. The Boulevard is a very wide, long street, designed to made ascent of the cliff-like hill to which the district clings to the side of less steep. The street is, however, still very steep, and it was because of this that today’s festival exists.

Today a large crowd will gather atop the hill and all along the sides of the central causeway. Nobody stands at the bottom for safety reasons. Also atop the hill will be arrayed twenty prams, side-by-side, and behind them 100 or so contestants, lined up, waiting. Inside the prams are twenty dolls with large goose eggs for heads. The children at the local schools paint the faces on the eggs, which are uncooked. Each of the shops on the Boulevard have stalls selling refreshments to the assembled crowd, who murmur excitedly as they wait for the race to begin. And then, after a short speech from the previous year’s winner, the brakes on all the prams are released at once and they begin to roll down the hillside. When they get about a third of the way down (and are going at a fair rate of knots), a klaxon sounds and the contestants run down the hill after them.

The idea for the festival came to Filuto when something very similar happened to her baby. According to the official account, some ‘nefarious agitator’ undid the brakes on her pram, sending it hurtling down the hill whilst she was talking to a stall owner. It was only thanks to the quick thinking and athleticism of Veracity Truthteller, a kindly passer-by, that the baby’s life was saved, and as such Filuto awarded her with her with the festival in her honour. At those first festivals the whole event would be pantomimed, with a cackling, hand-rubbing ‘baddy,’ releasing the pram brakes, to the sound of booing and hissing. This character would be dressed up in the colours of whichever political group was deemed threatening or dangerous at the time, a transparent piece of propaganda long before its more modern counterpart.

Over the years, the festival morphed into what it is today, becoming less of a pantomime and more of a competition, the propaganda being dropped. Most people knew that Filuto left the brakes off herself but had wanted to direct the blame elsewhere. Whoever manages to catch a pram first without breaking the egg inside is still referred to as that year’s ‘Veracity Truthteller,’ in respect for that original saviour.

With the large numbers of people taking part, the festival has become a lot more dangerous, and medical services are on hand to help any casualties. There have been numerous incidents of serious injury as the competitors speed down the steep hill, often flying head-over-heels if they trip. The tarmac is not a welcoming landing pad, so crash mats line either side of the road, separating the crowd from the racers. Nevertheless, there have been seven broken necks resulting in three deaths in the history of the festival; it is not for the faint of heart.

Despite the danger, the festival is still popular, perhaps because of the extreme adrenaline rush it gives folks participating and watching alike; the actual catching of the prams is usually down to the wire, and competitors have to run at full speed to get to them before they are dashed on the wall at the bottom of the hill. There is palpable relief when they do; something in the audience forgets for a moment that there is only eggs inside the prams, that there are no real babies at risk.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Bun Day
  • The Festival of Long and Fearless Silences
  • The Festival of Peaches