December 21st – The Longest Night

The year is coming to an end. As of today, autumn has officially come to an end, and as such tonight will be the longest night of the year. Although nobody has ever seen it and returned, astrologers and physicists say that at the north pole today you would see no sun at all. Here in Buentoille, things are a little brighter, but there are still around nine hours less sunlight today than there was earlier in the year, on the longest day. Today has, like midsummer, retained a certain significance since early times, and as such there are various different ways of celebrating this shortest of days.

A common sight on doorways and above the windows of many Buentoilliçan households today are midwinter decorations made from holly and mistletoe. Any homes which bear these bright symbols will have a bowl of punch, wine, or other red-coloured booze kept inside the front door, ready for any who call, along with a loaf of brown bread. The callers, or ‘wassailers’ as they are also known, will each dip a slice of bread into the alcohol before consuming it, then dance a short jig, often with singing or musical accompaniment, known as a ‘wassail caper’.

The reasons behind this strange tradition have been long debated, but the most popular theory is that it is a hangover from Helican myths, in which the ‘world-ox’ was slain after it had grown so massive and fat from eating stars that it had begun to block out the sun. The wine, like the red berries of the holly, represents the blood that flowed forth and nourished the land which was previously barren, making it fertile for farming. Presumably in this analogy the bread represents the land, soaked as it is in wine, and the mistletoe is variously said to represent pus, flesh, or semen, as the testicles of a bull are often one of the things first eaten after they are slain.

This explanation doesn’t really explain the ‘caper’, but it does align with the fact that many meat-eating Buentoillitants will have roast beef for their main meal today. This consumption occurs to the extent that there are small yearly massacres of cows in the weeks leading up to today, a fact which causes much dismay to the eastern Buentoillitants who have adopted the tradition of wassailing today, despite the fact that they trace their ancestry back to the vegetarian Escotolatians, rather than the omnivorous Helicans. For the eastern Buentoillitants, today is the first day of the year that you are allowed to open the goods pickled that summer, although this is obviously a rule often broken. If this has any links to the ancient Escotolatians, it is not clear what they are.

Outside these general practices which have spread across the City as a whole, there are also smaller celebrations or traditions associated with this day. In the halls of the Kindlers, those worshippers from the Circle of Light, great mounds of wood will be burned all through the night, growing the Holy Fire to account for its lack in the sky, but also out of a paranoia that it too will be extinguished. The City’s witches are usually up to some mysterious deeds on days such as these, although whilst there are rumours of strange rituals in seaside caverns, witches seem curiously absent from Buentoille today and nobody has ever found out where they go or what they do there, possibly because everyone is too drunk from eating wine-soaked bread.

A more modern tradition which has come to prominence recently is the ‘Midwinter Rave’. Organised primarily by young Buentoillitants, a ‘rave’ is simply another word for a party or gig, although particularly one which goes on for an entire night, and involves electronic music. The Midwinter Rave is of particular significance as this is the longest night of the year, so dancing all the way through it is considered a great feat of endurance. The Rave will be held in one of the now-empty banana storage warehouses, by the docks, and thousands of people are expected to turn up. Any who can remain moving on the dance floor the entire night are awarded with light-up trophies shaped like a crescent moon, and things are tied in nicely with wider tradition by many of the revellers wearing garlands or crowns of mistletoe and ivy, as a substitute for holly, given the latter’s rather uncomfortable nature. The doors open at 3:30pm, ready for the dancers to begin at sunset, just after 4:00pm. Live footage of the sunset and sunrise is broadcast by the BBS today, and is displayed at the Rave on an enormous screen to great cheering and applause from the packed crowds.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Mawkish Children