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

December 22nd – The Annual Testing of the Formande Street Exchange

The history of Buentoille is, in some ways, a history of experimentation and invention. Whilst many inventions that City dwellers think of as essentially Buentoilliçan are actually imports from other Cities and provinces (at least in idea rather than manufacture), the proportion of household gizmos invented in Buentoille (such as the washing machine, the electric kettle and the television) is startlingly high. Yet as any scientist will tell you, experiments are not always successful, and there are inevitably a number of inventions that fall by the wayside. Today, on Formande street in Jutêgarde Parish, an annual occurrence takes place, one which is intimately involved with one such failed experiment.

If it had been in the house above, the Formade Street Exchange would no doubt have been removed by now, the space used for something more useful, but thankfully for the legacy of Terrade Orr, it was installed in the basement. The other factor that’s ensured its survival is the fact that it really doesn’t take up a lot of space; the actual ‘exchange’ is little more than a table with a few wires and sockets. It sits in the corner of the basement, where it has resided now for over a hundred and fifty years. Today a path will be cleared to it thorough the other keepsakes and detritus that has piled up around it, most of it similarly forgotten, and the white dust-sheet will be pulled back in a small, sneezy cloud. Other than a patina on the wood and copper components, as well as a little water damage around the legs where it was affected by a flood, it is pretty much pristine, on account of having been used less than two hundred times.

When Orr invented the telephonic exchange, it was originally in an attempt not to send a radio signal down a wire, as most people now understand her frankly arcane work. Instead, Orr was attempting to find out what was going wrong with her experiments attempting to send ‘electrical semaphore’ signals by turning on and off an electrical current along a long wire. When scaled down to a few metres, these signals sent across the wire perfectly, but when the wire was longer than about eleven metres they became progressively garbled, the timings between each signal growing and shortening in seemingly random intervals. The longer the line, the worse these effects seemed. Like a doctor trying to diagnose a patient with a stethoscope, Orr decided that she had to ‘listen’ to the line to understand the cause of this interference, which is when she designed and built the Exchange, which modulated a constant signal’s voltage from positive to negative at a high enough frequency that it could, when attached to a speaker, approximate the human voice.

With her previous electrical semaphore experiments, Orr had only used a single wire, strung between her house and another down the street, and was concerned that the issue may be to do with the physical location of the wire, so with her telephonic exchange she managed to convince several of her neighbours to have wires suspended across the streets and fed into their windows. Each of these wires was laboriously insulated with cotton and wax, and suspended along the existing washing lines. Originally there were sixteen wires, heading out spider-like in all directions from Orr’s basement and out her living room window, all feeding back to the Exchange itself, where each had its own two sockets, into which Orr could plug her receiving and transmitting devices. None of these lines still exist; they were scrapped long ago.

As you might expect by the fact that every Buentoilliant does not have a telephonic exchange of their own in their homes, Orr’s experiment did no go exactly as planned. As before, when tested on a small scale, Orr managed to transmit her voice to a receiver on the other side of the room, but when she tried to transmit or receive any sounds to the other people in her street, all that could be heard down the line was another sound, something like a voice but not quite: ‘It was a horrid sound, and at first I thought that they were playing tricks on me,’ wrote Orr in her research notes. ‘It was as if someone’s voice were made out of the sound of two sheets being pulled across each other, but there was this other sound below, almost too deep to hear, like a drain gurgling. It sent shivers down my spine and I couldn’t stand it for long before I had to switch it off. The others heard it too, and they all say they want it out of their homes. I’ve persuaded all but Marney (silly woman – she believes it to be the voice of a ghost but remember this is the woman who said she could hear the grass grow!) to keep them for a few days whilst I calibrate and check the lines for breaks or points of interference.

The experiment has been replicated many times at other locations around the City, but each has had the same results. Nobody is entirely sure what causes it, but currently there is some ongoing research as to whether it is connected to the phenomenon of radiodance, given that both of them seem to involve interference in the electromagnetic spectrum. The study is expected to publish its results in 2021, at which point it will have collected fifty years worth of data. The event at Formande Street today forms an element of this study, although it is a small, informal element, mostly run as a way for Orr’s descendants to keep her memory alive. A new wire is stretched across the street to a house down the road, with different types of insulation used each year, to see whether or not this effects the results in any way. So far the conclusion is that only length of wire seems to have any affect on the noise, that ghostly voice that still haunts the remnants of Orr’s legacy.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Broad Brush Strokes
  • The Tangential, Virile Festival
  • Trocchao Swannidge’s Day

December 23rd – The Festival of Eddel Duhrer’s Lady

Whenever anyone new came into Eddel Duhrer’s ‘study’ (that is, the laundry room of his small house on Good Hope Alley, where he had a fold-down desk and chair set up in the corner) they inevitably commented on the small statue that he kept on a shelf. It was painted wood, depicting a woman reaching into a sack, whilst looking wide eyed away from the bag, as if she had just been caught, or found something awful. Her eyes were the most arresting part, and he always kept her staring at the door, which was directly behind his desk (so that nobody snuck up on him), which is probably reason she garnered so many comments. Duhrer would always respond, ‘Oh that? That’s my lady.’

Duhrer had owned his ‘lady’ for about six years before this day in 1997, when he was sitting quietly in the study looking out at the yard and next-door’s cat, which was at that time starting intently at a tree where a robin was hiding. ‘I was writing, or at least that was what I had sat down to do, but around that time I was finding it very difficult to get going and so inevitably the things out the window started to get my attention instead. It was very quiet and there was washing all around that I’d only just put out, so it smelled nice, if a little damp, and then all of a sudden I heard this little bell and I looked up and my lady was moving!’

Quite where Duhrer got the statue from seems to be something of a mystery, not because he has now died and taken the secret to the grave, or because it was sold to him by a shady stranger, but because he obstinately refuses to tell. He has variously claimed to several news organisations that he bought it from a witch, or that he found it in a deep cave, or that he bought it from a wonderful second-hand shop that he’d never seen before and never saw again. None of these explanations are true, and many commentators have proposed that he made the statue himself, despite having allegedly no mechanical know-how and despite professing great surprise at the first time that his ‘lady’ sprang to life.

According to Duhrer (and a number of others that he has invited to watch the lady move), after the bell has sounded, the lady takes her hand out of the sack, holding up some new item each time. On that first year it was apparently a small beating heart, but since there has been a squirming octopus, a cat, little bird, and a flickering lamp. All of the items pulled from the sack are exquisite miniatures, and in some way animated, and when they have been revealed they are swiftly replaced again, the whole thing taking under a minute. The whole time the woman maintains the same shocked look, and when she is done moving the joints, which were so apparent a few moments ago, are suddenly invisible once again.

The guests invited to come and watch this fleeting moment today are especially picked from a pool of applicants by Duhrer, and have been coming ever since that first display; it’s likely that the lady moved before 1997 but nobody noticed. Alongside the very exclusive guest list, which mainly involves his friends and family, Duhrer’s refusal to allow anyone to test and scan the lady to see whether his claims are true tends to raise some eyebrows. Duhrer’s explanation is that he doesn’t want to ‘spoil the surprise’ of future items pulled from the sack. Presumably, at some point, these items will cycle, starting again with the heart, at which point he has said he’ll happily invite some scientists around to look at it. They seemingly have to begin again soon, or else where will these brief masterpieces be stored? Quite where the bell is sounding from is another mystery, as there appear to be no holes for the sound to escape from so clearly.

After the viewing of the lady, Duhrer’s guests will retire to the dining room/kitchen, where they will be served an elaborate meal. Apparently he is quite the conversationalist, although Margaret Spinewinch, who visited in 2003 advised others not to ‘get him started on his novel, or he might bring it through, all two thousand pages of it, and start reading.’

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Nice Festival of Calming Experiences
  • The Festival of Terrible Breath
  • Creatures of the Night – A Festival of Cinematic Horror

December 24th – The Festival of Understanding They Who Walk Among Us

The central text, the equivalent of a holy book, of the Gathering of Those Who Know is slim, less than a hundred pages long. It reads more like a novelette than a holy book, a fact that has made the Gathering a very popular pseudo-religious group, given the fact they’ve not been around long, because of how accessible it seems. The text, called How We Came to Know, tells the story of the group’s founders, Millicent Awcome and Vaerible Schlost, focusing in particular on something life-changing that they saw on this very day.

Awcome and Schlost were friends, and had been since school. How We Came to Know begins with the pair at school, a few moments snatched from their collective memories to illustrate who they were; they met in detention, they left messages for each other written in code, attached to the underside of a desk they both used on different days of the week, Schlost made a card game called The Dangerous Citizen and Awcome played the drums. It goes on like this for some time, fleshing out their personalities, so that when the central scene comes you feel as if you already know these characters, and you identify with them. Outside of making prospective members feel a certain kinship towards the Gathering’s founders (therefore making them more likely to join up), these first tales seem to serve no pedagogic purpose. These are not stories to be emulated, they are pacing in a carefully crafted retelling of (allegedly) true events.

When it eventually gets to that founding moment, How We Came to Know jumps several years into the future, when both Schlost and Awcome, now nineteen, were sat together on the edge of a rooftop, drinking. There was a low bar that ran along the top of the wall, which they wedged themselves underneath with their feet dangling over the edge. This was a standard activity in the summer, but it was an unusual thing to happen in the winter, when the wet and snow and ice made getting onto the roof fairly dangerous, but Schlost had been feeling depressed and Awcome was trying to cheer them up. ‘I bet you can’t spit into that puddle over there,’ said Awcome. ‘Bet I can,’ said Schlost, and they spat as hard as they could and their spit hit the puddle and as it did the puddle lit up, as if it were reflecting the summer sun.

At this point, the narrative of that slim book is broken into by the narrators, the two friends, who are very eager to let the reader know that they aren’t claiming that Schlost has some sort of magical spit; they don’t know what caused them to suddenly be able to see reflected in that puddle the alien spacecraft descending from the heavens. ‘It was startling to us both; we were looking around for the source of the reflection, yet not for long because at the same time we could barely take our eyes off of it, that bright white cylinder out of which stepped a person with ashen grey skin and bright red lips and very long arms. As they stepped out of the cylinder they transformed to look like a normal human, and then, when they did, the water rippled under their foot, or was it the foot of someone who was just walking by, someone who happened to look a lot like the person we just saw the alien transform into.

‘We think that if we had not been holding hands so tightly then, and if we had not talked to each other about it, then we would have forgotten it in the next few moments, because as that person stepped on the puddle the memory faded so rapidly, like waking from a murky dream. Yet there was this sensation, as if you had spent all your life until that moment looking through a narrow tube and now your vision was wide-screened, like that moment at the cinema just before the film starts and the borders pull back; this sensation remained. Whenever you have this sensation normally, you may have just seen an alien land, or transform, or whatever it was that we saw that day, you simply don’t remember it.’

The route up onto the roof is easier nowadays, given that the building, once a shop, is now the official residence of the Gathering, where similar visions are recorded and discussed and studied for similarities and important information. ‘We know they mean us no harm, at least directly’ say the Gathering, ‘but we don’t know why they’re here, or what they want; that is what we intend to find out.’ Indeed, this is what will be discussed today, when all the Gathering’s membership will come together for a number of talks that summarise the year’s findings. This year there will be a talk on the increased efficacy of remembering dual sightings as compared to individual sightings. Additionally, there will always be that secondary part of the festival, when the Gathering file up to the roof and each spit off the edge, trying to hit that same puddle, not in hopes of seeing another craft, but out of a sense of respect for the moment when They Who Walk Among Us were first remembered.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Dorritch Walegethra’s Balloons
  • The Entombed Festival
  • Oarswomen for Intermunicipal Unity’s Festival of Departure

December 25th – The Festival of the Silken Escape

The League of Female Independence (LFI) has been around for a long time, and was one of the first groups to affiliate with the Women’s Union, who organised the great Strike of 1553. These women initially joined together as an organisation to support each other, and to ensure that women had a means of supporting themselves outside of the influence of men, who, at the time, were paid more and were therefore more likely to be the largest financial contributor in a relationship. This was a time when middle class women were expected to stay at home to look after children, and therefore many had no means whatsoever of supporting themselves. Working class women were often paid so poorly that they had to rely on male wages to survive. Thankfully, Buentoille is now a fairer and more enlightened place, but for hundreds of years organisations like the LFI were essential to ensuring the very survival of many Buentoillitants.

Mutual support was a central part of the LFI’s work, an ideal which in practice involved childcare sharing schemes, communal living and wage sharing, shelters for victims of domestic violence, and female-only defence brigades who would protect these shelters and would be dispatched to protect some vulnerable women. Most of these defence brigades would publicly identify themselves by wearing blood-red silk scarves around their necks, silk scarves made in LFI-owned factories where formerly jobless women who wanted to be independent from the men in their lives worked. These factories, as well as some of the communal houses, shelters and childcare schemes are still in existence today, though in somewhat modified form, and whilst the defence brigades are no longer necessary, members of the LFI still choose to identify themselves by the scarves, which are a large part of today’s festival.

There is an old Buentoilliçan folk story about a beautiful young woman trapped in a tower that you may have heard of. When she was very young, she declared to her father, her sole caregiver, that she never wanted to marry a man. He laughed this off, but when she stuck true to this sentiment as a teenager, he decided to imprison her in a tall tower until she agreed to marry a man of good wealth, so that she would carry on the family line. Soon rumours about the young woman’s beauty began to circulate, and not much longer they began turning up at her father’s door, petitioning him to convey their gifts to her. The father was naturally delighted with this but the young woman simply threw all the presents out of her windows. All except one, a silk scarf, which she kept. Three weeks later she had enough silk scarves to make a long rope, with which she escaped and never returned.

In the reimagining of this tale, which is acted out in part today, the anniversary of the first meeting of the League, the scarves are not presents from men, but symbolic tokens of solidarity from members of the LFI. In this canny piece of annual advertising, the League uses a story which almost everyone would instantly recognise and therefore broadens the impact of their rhetoric. As in real life, each woman’s input alone may not be enough to save the damsel trapped in the tower, but bonded strongly together they are an effective force to be reckoned with.

Yet the display today is not just a political statement, but a beautiful spectacle, too, a fact which has ensured its lasting appeal all these years. In its modern form, the LFI provides less financial support as since the Revolution this has been less necessary, but instead the support tends to centre around highlighting, supporting and encouraging the achievements of women, and the festival today is one such place to highlight the artistic skills of its members. Instead of one woman descending the red silken rope, a number of women acrobatically descend, unfurling many ropes as they go, twirling in the air with poise and grace. The tower they descend from, the Women’s Beacon, shines brightly each night, like an inland lighthouse, and was itself designed by a woman called Amerlia Gretchan, and built by innumerable LFI members.

An audiovisual display is also projected onto the tower, which is each year designed by a different female artist. Last year over one hundred acrobats tumbled down in a bright display, as angular birds flew out from behind them, all to the frenetic sounds of the electronic music producer Gale Dwenner. At the end the lights cut to black, the music stopped, and then, as the lights slowly came back on, the tower was revealed with no animated overlay, a tall symbol of female solidarity, swathed with knotted red silk scarves.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Brazen Fool
  • The Doctor’s Image Reproduced: a Festival of Fractal Wonderment

December 26th – Saint Miliflage’s Day; The Festival of the Pilgrim’s Star

Whilst the Chastise Church has always maintained its official belief in the existence of Saint Miliflage’s Island, for most of the past eight hundred or so years few others have joined them in this belief. Various attempts have been made to find the island, which is said to be somewhere beyond the Tibizian Straits, within a (relatively) nearby segment of the Outer Ocean. The way to find it is to follow the Pilgrim’s Star, which appears particularly bright in the north-west tonight, hovering just above the horizon all night. This, at least, is what it is claimed Miliflage did, in her holy book, Miliflage Exemplarium, a text which, it has recently been found, was originally written as more of an adventurer’s memoir, published under the title Eckscurshuns ofe a Venrable Laydee.

In her own time Danielli Merskov, the eponymous ‘Venerable Lady’, was something of a celebrity. She was unusual amongst Buentoillitants in that she was not content to settle down; she always had to be moving, exploring. Many scholars have traced this curious tendency to her father, who was actually a Chenorrian, a scout for that roving, nomadic empire of the Great Expanse to the east. He only stayed in the City for about a month, but in that time he had amorous relations with Merskov’s mother, who raised her in her beloved Buentoille; Merskov senior, unlike her daughter and the man she let into her bed, was not the roaming sort.

The tall tales and artefacts that Merskov brought back from the other cities of the Inner Ocean and farther reaches were what made her so famous in Buentoille. Whenever she passed through the City, she was invited to the court of whichever monarch was in power at the time (Merskov lived through four monarchies), where she would display her finds and tell stories, which, when filtered down through the various strata of Buentoilliçan society, became increasingly unbelievable. A figure like this was a valuable person to have associated with any cause, and so it was that Merskov was appropriated as a saint, and a suitable tale of Attunement was made up, in order to cement her position within the Chastise Church.

At the time, the Church wielded great power, and were quickly able to persuade the publishers of Merskov’s Eckscurshuns to instead publish the Exemplarium, suppressing the original text. So it was that the tale of Merskov finding her uninhabited island, where the land is ‘juyste beaneath the wartere, sow yt looketh to the idoll vyewer as yf ye walketh ypon the wartere’s surfayce,’ became a tale of Saint Miliflage finding an island where, through Attunement, the inhabitants had managed to walk on water. Her description of how to find the place, which was already a fairly vague explanation involving the triangulation of three stars, including the Pilgrim’s Star, was also simplified into simply following this star.

It was only in 1988 that a surviving copy of the original text was unearthed, hidden as it was within the bindings of another book, so that it purported to be a horseradish gardener’s guide. For hundreds of years, then, all attempts to find the Island were undertaken by people looking in fundamentally the wrong location, so it is no wonder that the island was taken to be a fanciful creation of the Church. The unearthing of this book was, then, a bittersweet moment for the Church, who were at once vindicated and vilified by its contents. At the time the Church actually denied the veracity of the text, but when documentary footage of the island was brought back to Buentoille by Moreige Formo and his band of explorers in 2000, they were forced to admit their historical untruths.

As such, there have been various changes to the way in which the festival today has been celebrated. At one time, the Chastise Church would have led a special sermon looking out from The Church of The Holy Host, atop Ranaclois hill, in the direction of the Pilgrim’s Star. Nowadays, as a way of making up for their past misdeeds, a subsection of the Church will go out distributing copies of the original text, rendered in more modern language. Other groups, such as the Guild of Cartographers, will today hold study sessions, trying to align the descriptions of Merskov’s other explorations with their understanding of the lands around Buentoille. With the suppression of Eckscurshuns, a lot of this information was lost, and whilst many of the locations described were ‘discovered’ by other, later explorers, there are still some which are as yet unverified. This year, in recognition of the recently uncovered great work that Merskov did, a statue will be unveiled on the dockside, looking out towards her half-submerged island, rather than that misleading star that was followed fruitlessly for so long.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Blighted Wind Day
  • The Festival of Lowering Your Cholesterol with One Weird Trick
  • Madame Boule’s Festival of Inappropriate Iced Cream

December 27th – The Festival of Winter’s Beginning

In terms of astronomical science, winter started six days ago, on the 21st of December, but for many Buentoillitants, that day is arbitrarily decided on via the wrong metrics. Many will call it winter when the first frost rolls over the countryside, others say winter is when all the leaves have fallen, or mulched, or simply when they’ve had enough of the cold and dark and wet. Yet there are more precise monthly measurements, outside of the position of the earth relative to the sun, one of which occurs today: the freezing-over of the Simmansville Fountain.

Of course, there are some winters when it is mild enough that the Fountain never freezes over, or when it freezes extremely early or late, and in these situations it is up to the individual as to whether they believe the freezing still represents the winter’s beginning, or whether they then defer to other metrics. However, given the weather forecast and the fact that the Fountain began to freeze last night, these are not decisions that will have to be made this year, as the freezing should be fairly close to the astronomical measurement.

The reason that one fountain decides for many the coming of this particular season is mostly down to the author Gerveera Sacks, specifically their book The Breath of Father Winter, a seminal novel that was particularly popular between the 1870s and the turn of the century. It remains a classic to this day, and is often read or invoked whenever the weather becomes frosty. Skilfully weaving the story of a young boy growing up around various traditional myths about winter, the book has embedded itself in the popular consciousness. The first sentence of the book is: ‘You know it’s winter when the Simmansville Fountain freezes over.’

The fountain itself, where plenty of folk will gather today, is impressive even when unfrozen, but today its four great jets of water become icicled arches, dripping and forming additional icicles. The effect is greatly helped by the lights that make the ice crystals sparkle beautifully, and by the various Buentoillitants skating beneath the arches, assuming that the pool underneath has frozen over too. The central column, out of which the fifth and largest water jet normally flows directly upwards, is generally completely obscured by layer-upon-layer of icy fingers reaching toward the heavens and then, at their peak, spreading out like a palm tree.

Ice skating is not the only wintry delight on offer at the Simmansville Fountain today; around and about there are Buentoillitants engaging in other activities mentioned in The Breath of Father Winter, a book that so joyously describes Buentoille in the winter that it actually came to reform what Buentoillitants expect from the season. Hot chestnut sellers, meat rotisseries and doughnut purveyors line the square where the Fountain is located, and if there is no snow naturally, man-made snow will be laid on the ground and over the roofs of all the buildings nearby.

As the main character of The Breath (Rufus) works for some time as a shoeshine boy, there will be plenty of young men and women around dressed in an antiquated fashion, offering this service (children are kindly discouraged from offering their labour as shoe-shiners or in any other profession), and various stalls will offer variations of the hand-knitted hat and scarf that the character is given as a gift from a kindly old lady. In the windows of the shops, models of red-breasted robins perch on snow-laden branches. Old, thin men will traditionally go about selling sprigs of holly or mistletoe, although they do not expect anyone to buy any – this is an act of sinister pantomime on their part.

When night falls, traditional gas lamps are wheeled out to replace their modern electrical equivalents, and braziers are lit around the fountain (far away enough that it doesn’t melt!). The activities enjoyed today will go on for as long as the fountain is continuously frozen. This could be all winter, as on some particularly harsh years it has been, although given the weather forecast it will probably be until some time after the start of the new year.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Depths of Siram Sirim; a Festival of Ambient Music
  • The Questioning of the Second Elder Festival
  • Listen to the Ground Day

December 28th – The Festival of Waving to the Eternal Scroller

Apparently it’s going to snow again today, which could be excellent news for one particular group, besides of course the Children’s Union. It all depends on what time it snows at; if it snows in the morning and then is cold and clear all day, conditions will be perfect for The Cult of the Eternal Scroller. If it snows heavily at and in the run-up to 3:42pm then it couldn’t get much worse. Early indications are for the former option, and the Magnificent Skywatcher has publicly announced that the Cult is ‘confident’ that today will be the day they see the Eternal Scroller once again, and more importantly that it will see them.

Whilst the Cult’s faithful might be confident, other Buentoillitants show less enthusiasm for the word of the Magnificent Skywatcher (currently Sami Sarageesi), given past failures. Troccham Bradley is one such vocal critic of the Cult, and in particular of the leadership’s claims that they can predict the arrival of the Scroller: ‘whether or not they realise it themselves, the Skywatchers are stringing along the Cult for fools; this “method” that they laud is nothing more than empty mathematics. It doesn’t matter how complex or beautiful your equation is, if you are basing the arrival of a holy flying being that was probably only sighted once on the movement of unrelated things like birds and the winds, you are never going to get an accurate prediction.’

Bradley is, for obvious reasons, a controversial figure within the Cult, but also the more scientifically-minded elements of the community that sprung up around that first sighting in 1951. Folk like Bradley are often dismissed by the older members of this community because they are the second generation, people who never saw the Scroller for themselves. Whilst he has since tried to distance himself from it, there is no denying that Bradley grew up in a family of Cult members, and many think that this has biased him one way or the other. Bradley has never denied that something was seen by various Buentoillitants, but when successive Skywatchers failed to predict the re-emergence of the phenomenon, he grew suspicious of their continued belief in their interpretation of the sighting. Bradley’s insistence on describing the being as ‘flying’ rather than ‘scrolling’ being is one example of his departure from Cult orthodoxy.

As it came so early in the morning, not many Buentoillitants saw the dark shape that passed over the City on a clear south-east-to-north-west axis. Most people were still in bed, and even some who weren’t simply didn’t look up, or only saw it for the briefest of moments before it was occluded by the skyline and mistook it for a strange bird. Of those who did see it, a few thousand perhaps, only about five hundred joined the Cult when it was begun by Belwrath Heali later that month. They were drawn in by the woman’s charisma, certainly, but also because she offered some explanation for what they’d seen: according to Heali, the flying being was not flying at all. It was staying perfectly still, and the world was scrolling before its gaze eternally. Technically we are all sideways, the world a great earthen scroll being ‘read’ by this being. Of those five hundred, only thirty eight currently remain; the others have died or left for similar reasons to Bradley.

This reduction in membership certainly makes today’s festival tricker, and more scaled-back in ambition. In the fields outside the City to the south, were the land is flat and high, they will scrape back the snow in intricate patterns to form images that will be ‘read’ by the Eternal Scroller. If there is no snow, rocks will be laid out, crops kicked down, or the topsoil will be cut back, depending on the time of year. Snow is certainly the easiest to work with, assuming the conditions are in the Cult’s favour, and therefore more elaborate designs are possible, even with the limited membership.

The pattern changes each year, with different intersecting circles and lines attempting to catch the attention of the Scroller by depicting the surrounding lands, or star charts, or simply an image of unnatural abstract beauty. The centre of the design, however, always remains the same: it shows the Scroller itself, a half-human, half-cross form, with no discernable head and enormous, thick arms, spread out to the sides, ending not in hands but an abrupt rounded end. The feet point out to the sides, like a child’s painting, and are almost like tiny copies of the arms at the being’s base. The (perhaps vain) hope of the Cultists today is that the Scroller will once again pass over, like a reader turning back to find a quote they remembered, and they will see that something has changed, and not like normal because here, staring back, is an image of itself, and around it, little people waving.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of Dulcet Tones
  • The Dragging of the Emperor Festival

December 29th – The Festival of the Amnesiac Wreck

Apparently the lighthouse keeper didn’t spot the vessel until it was on the rocks, a fact that is less surprising than it sounds, given how rough the waters were that night, and how black the ocean was under the new moon. She raised the alarm pretty quickly when she did spot it, but by that time most of the crew were already dead. A gang of strong Buentoillitants ran down the coastline with ropes searching for survivors and pulling any they found to safety. Only five of them survived, all men in their late twenties. The rest were dashed on the rocks.

Seafaring has never been a safe practise, but back in the fourteenth century when life jackets weren’t invented, when lighthouses used braziers, when sea charts were inaccurate and navigational equipment was poor, it was particularly dangerous. There were plenty of nautical accidents in and around Buentoille that century, as many as fifty a year, so what made this wrecking, which is remembered today, quite so deserving of memorial? Well, it is less about the scale of the tragedy, the numbers who died, but about the legacy that it left behind; mostly it will be the descendants of those five survivors who gather to remember today.

By now there are thousands of living descendants of the survivors who can trace their lineage back that far. Whilst not all these Buentoillitants are interested or able to come to today’s festival, a good thousand-or-so will likely arrive at Sickle Rock Point today, where the wrecking originally took place. It is a tradition passed down through various families, so there are various ways of marking respect for the dead, and of expressing to the universe their thanks for those who survived. Some families release fish into the waters there, to swim free like the souls of those who perished. Many bring storm lanterns like those used in the rescue and hang them from the rusted metal hooks that were hammered into the rocks for that purpose long ago. Some write messages for the dead and fold the paper into boats that they float out into the frigid waters.

Yet the reason that so many people retain records of their relation to the five is because, at the time, they were essentially celebrities; people were fascinated by them. They weren’t Buentoillitants, nor were they obviously from any of the other Seven Cities, or for that matter any place known to Buentoille. And each survivor, too, had no idea of where they had come from, or where they were going when they hit the Point. They didn’t even know their own names, it was as if the water they fell into had washed all memory from their minds. Yet they could speak, although it was with strange, thick accents, and later two of them realised that they were excellent coopers, though they had no memory of learning those skills. The only thing that they remembered was a fragment of song, perhaps the song they were singing before they hit the rocks.

It wasn’t a song that any Buentoillitant had heard before, although it had similarities to many known sea-shanties. Tonight, at 7pm, the time that their unmarked vessel was thought to have been wrecked, their descendants will sing it all together, their voices swelling, roaring over the ocean and the wind, a declaration of survival. They sing:

Haul away, haul away,

Haul away in the morning,

Before the sun rises, the rising run,

Haul away in the morning!

Bury me at sea, my laddies, bury me at sea,

Haul away in the morning,

Where the darkness grows thick,

Away from the rising sun, from the morning.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Left Brood

December 30th – The Annual Broadcast of Soal Williams’ Final Hurrah

If it were the summer this evening, one of those nights where everyone has their windows open and you can smell their cooking, where a warm breeze flaps the washing lines and folk chat to their neighbours in the tenement building across the street as if there weren’t a twenty foot drop between them, if it were one of those nights then you’d hear the same radio show coming from every window. You’d be able to walk down any road and miss less than a few seconds. In reality the windows will all be closed, and likely all that you’d hear is the cold, howling wind. It’s better to do the same as everyone else: sit inside by the fire with your own radio.

The show is called Soal Williams’ Final Hurrah, and it always starts with the same solo song, a fifty seven year old recording of Williams himself playing the guitar and singing pensively. Williams stopped hosting the show in 1993 when he died, but they kept it named after him anyway, it wouldn’t seem right to change it. The song now serves as a kind of theme tune, announcing the show’s beginning. The main content of the show varies year to year, but in general the format moves between summaries of the year’s events with plenty of guest speakers and live musical segments from different bands and musicians.

The programme, which goes on for several hours as the night progresses, eschews the grating pluckiness and hollow enthusiasm typically found in radio hosts; whenever Williams was actually enthusiastic about something it was easy to tell, and he spoke with such genuine interest that it tended to infect everyone who listened in. Often, after Williams invited the practitioner of a previously little-known art form on the show, such as he did with hair braiders in 1982 or shell painters in 1979, you could be sure that plenty of folks would shortly be looking for shells on the beach or walking about with intricate topknots. Authors and musicians have risen from utter obscurity on the back of the Final Hurrah.

It is often easier to describe Williams by what he was not, rather than what he was. He was not your typical showman, shouting ‘take it away’ to the band, nor was he interested in talking over his guests. He spoke softly, not loudly, and he was not afraid of silence; the Final Hurrah takes things at its own pace, calmly leaving pauses, and even inserting whole sections where Williams just went out and recorded crows in a field, or the sound of the underground on a quiet day. It’s this sort of thing that seems to have made the show stand out from your average talkshow, and even now Williams has gone, his successors, Werner Sallewith and Doste Inge, have managed to maintain its particular feel. It expects an absurd level of patience, but oddly enough it gets it; people are more than happy to have an excuse to sit and do nothing, to curl up on the sofa with a loved one or stretch out on the carpet next to the cat after a whole year of activity. Not that the year is quite over yet.

When he first aired the show on his own station, Williams thought that today was the last day of the year. He’d spent a long time away from the City trying to ‘become an artist’ in the woods, and it seems that he lost track of time. That first airing had no guests, no summaries of the year, just a quick ‘talkshow’ part where Williams talked about a book he’d read a few times out in the woods, a few minutes of his ambient recordings, and the ‘theme song’. He began by saying ‘I’ve been in the woods for over a year but I’m back now and this is all I have for my trouble, and then launched into the song. Some people say they find it melancholy, others that it is warm and cosy, like a hand held beneath a duvet on a cold night. At the end of that first show, Williams, who had clearly been drinking, trailed off a little, and then, quite abruptly as if it had just occurred to him, said ‘It’s midnight. We should all go outside and listen to the new year bells.’ On the recording you can hear him put down his headphones, and then the door goes, and then five minutes of silence elapse, and the door goes again, and as he is fumbling for the off button you can just hear Williams mumbling the word ‘idiot’ under his breath.

‘I had a much better year, back in the City, around other people,’ said Williams, on the show, which was yet to be titled or really gather any notice, ‘rather than out there on my own. I didn’t think I’d do this again, but here we are. I know it’s not new year’s eve but I figured I might as well make a tradition of it. Hi Polly, hi Wistow, I hope you’re both listening like I asked. I guess I’ll get started.’ It would be three years before the show was picked up by the BBS, before he had many guests and managed to really get stuck in, but unknown to Williams he was already getting new listeners. His new friend Polly was herself friends with a local priest, and she made sure that this priest tuned in. ‘I did this last year and it’s stupid, but I’m going to do it again, if you don’t mind,’ said Williams, at the show’s end, in the moments running up to midnight. The next words he said in an exaggerated voice, mocking his former self, ‘we should all go outside and listen to the new year bells.’

Again, you hear the headphones, and the door, and there are a few moments of silence and then, a little muffled through the window, you can hear a sound now familiar to this penultimate day: the sound of church bells ringing enthusiastically. After a short time the door opens again, and it’s hard to tell if Williams is laughing or crying.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Capped Cap
  • The Festival of Perishing the Piskies
  • Telehailers Are Here Festival