November 13th – The Hottop Parade Festival

The Bright Guildhouse, the headquarters of the Guild of Tallow and Wax Merchants is famously bright, as its name suggests. At night, it is quite a spectacle; the thousands of electric lights, oil lamps and candles which burn inside cast great swathes of warm light through the huge windows onto the cold street, and it’s a good job there are few residential buildings close by because they’d need very thick curtains to sleep at night. All along the street are similarly hundreds of lights, hanging from cables between the buildings in long strings. There is always a small fire-fighting team on hand in the Guildhouse, ready to jump into action at any moment.

Today there will be more lights added to this display, although these will be more mobile in format, and only hand around for a short while. At 7:00pm tonight the Hottop Parade will file out of the Guildhouse and into the surrounding streets. The paraders are all members of the Guild, which in the modern day functions more like a worker’s union than a mercantile lobbying body, as it was initially conceived; this was, unsurprisingly, one of the many effects of the Revolution. Despite these changes, the workers have chosen to retain the organisation’s name, and many of the traditions that it carries out.

Various titles are handed out to guild members, as per these traditions, with each title conferring different status and function within the Parade tonight. At one time, various insular political machinations would accompany the granting of the titles, but now they are simply handed out with seniority; the longer you’ve been a guild member the more advanced your titles become. At the back of the procession are the Novice Lightbearers, and at the front there are the Keepers of the Roaring Flame, and the Master of the Inferno, the current most senior member.

Hottops, or as they are variously called, lampheads, tallow hobs and wick goblins, are an old Buentoilliçan house spirit, one of the varieties that is said to be very helpful, if treated right. They were originally a very small element of the pantheon of house deities, getting only a side note in Tichaw’s Homelee Spyrett Gyde when mentioning candle pushers, a type of malevolent ghost that can burn down homes when angered. According to the Gyde, the hottop (so called because its head is made of flame) was a tallow or oil eating spirit that snuffs out unattended candles or lamps, taking a little of the fuel savings for its services of fire prevention. This creature became well known across Buentoille not because of this book, but because of the Guild, who made it their official symbol. You can still see the original carving above the main doors of the Guildhouse: cut out of the marble is a small childlike figure with their legs crossed and a flame for a head.

It is because of these household spirits that ginger-haired folk are actually statistically more likely to join the Guild of Tallow and Wax Merchants than any other union or guild; in Buentoilliçan lore, the spirits feel an affinity for redheads, and grant them luck, protection and sometimes labour in all matters light-related. As such there will be a slightly higher percentage of redheads amongst those taking part in the procession that winds around the Catathon district today (along a route which has avoided the Mackmara Distillery since the Tragic Whisky Explosion of 1701), not that you would notice; you won’t be able to see the heads of any participants because they’ll all be dressed as hottops.

The classical hottop outfit, which will be worn by many of the paraders is fairly simple, consisting primarily of a special hat which is strapped to the head. It has two ‘shoulders’ which jut out to either side, and on top a small brazier with a protective ash-plate below it. Paired with a suitably long shirt or dress, the outfit makes the wearer look, in a fairly convincing manner, as if they have a flame for a head. As this outfit necessitates poor visibility the wearers generally tend to hold hands, which, combined with the absolute silence of the marchers, give the spectacle a somewhat disconcerting edge.

There are, however, various other versions of this basic costume, worn by various Guild members, regardless of rank. With the advent of electric lights there are some hottops that have light bulbs for heads, or bulbous heads made of tissue paper and willow, their moulded faces smiling sweetly, lit from within. Some have lampshades over them like hats, others are capable of spurting flame high into the air (and are appropriately given a wide berth), or feature under-lit columns of steam, or even laser displays shooting out from a neck cavity. Each year there is always something new to see, alongside the old classics, in this mobile display of seven hundred years’ lighting technology.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Ischiri Duggawe Festival of Foul Medicine
  • The Festival of Well Behaved Children
  • Truthteller’s Day