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