October 21st – The Festival of the Skeleton Dance

Despite the attempts to make the Skeleton Dance seem like some ancient tradition by linking it to church and graveside iconography, it is actually a comparatively modern celebration, with little behind it but a desire to enjoy the spooky, the spectacular. The idea of the ‘Macabre Dance’ as it was known, stretches far back into Buentoilliçan history, predating even the Chastise Church. The painted and carved images of skeletal figures leading the newly deceased away to the afterlife via death that adorn some of the older Churches are probably an attempt to co-opt old forms of belief into the Church.

In their modern format, these images and ideas were once again co-opted into new form by Weller Delwet, inventor of the zoetropic carousel lamp, in what proved to be a successful attempt to sell his inventions. This is where we get the modern association between dancing skeletons and this date from; Delwet identified October the 21st as the best date to sell his lamps, which at once captured the creepy elements of autumn, when the luscious life of summer begins to give way to death and rot, and the attractive glow of fire which has not yet become tired as it can be towards winter’s end. In order to raise sales, Delwet hired thirteen historians to fabricate stories of a ‘sadly lost festival’ which took place on that auspicious day, upon which all lost souls would be gathered and led to the afterlife by dancing skeletons.

According to these hired historians, the primary way in which Buentoillitants would celebrate this festival was by dancing around a huge bonfire and watching their elongated shadows, which would be joined by similarly elongated skeletal examples, the only mark the dancing skeletons made outside the spiritual realm, as they passed by. In the adverts he bought in the Daily Buentoillitant, Delwet extolled readers to ‘Treat the family to a SKELETON DANCE SPECTACLE, from the comfort of their own home! By INGENIOUS MECHANISM, watch the skeletons dance the light fantastic around your living room! DELWET’S SKELETAL CAROUSEL OF LIGHT is sure to delight and amaze family members of all ages!’ Quite often these adverts accompanied articles on the ‘ancient’ festival itself, where the links to the past and Buentoille’s preoccupation with festivals were also levered.

This ‘ingenious mechanism’ functions in a manner which is, as the name suggests, similar to both a zoetrope and a carousel lamp, in effect projecting moving images of dancing skeletons onto the surrounding walls, when spun fast enough either by hand with a special pulley or by clockwork, as with some later designs developed for richer clients. While the lampshades spin very fast, the skeletal figures appear to move around in circles much slower, capering and high-stepping as they go. An oil or gas lamp is in the centre, with a diffuser placed upon the naked flame to shield it from the updraft and to spread the light more evenly. Much as they were instructed to do in the adverts, many Buentoilliçan households bought one of these contraptions and spun it up on this night, the whole family gathered around, looking at the projected figures on the walls. Delwet made his fortune.

Of course, this is Buentoille, so things had to become a little more communal and take to the streets. Since 1871, just that has happened; a giant lamp is constructed in Taleventer’s Circle, where all the local houses become something of a canvas for the skeletons dancing around, their lost souls in tow. Since the nineteenth century there have also been some other changes; electricity has obviously come into play, and modern zoetropic carousel lamps are far more complex and automatic, although those families who still retain their originals are wont to bring them out for the night. In many windows all around the City you will tonight see various light displays, inspired by Delwent’s creation. Children often make static scenes, light boxes where various layers of paper are shone through, creating a sense of three dimensions. Special white curtains are hung in some houses for the night, onto which short, spooky films are projected, extended versions of those which entertain the families inside and out. For the amount of effort that goes into tonight’s celebrations, you’d think people actually believed they were participating in some great, ancient tradition.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Monochrome Expression Festival
  • The Festival of the Fanned Flautist’s First Symphionetta
  • The Festival of the Sunken Biscuit