February 28th – Saint Dondrite’s Day; The Festival of Lost Property

Today, in Saint Dondrite’s Hall, thousands of pieces of lost property will be laid out on long tables, organised according to type and the location they were found. The public are welcomed in to take anything they wish, whether they are the original owner or not. Each table has a small plaque attached to it, on which is the name of the place or transport service where the items were found.

The origin of this custom is somewhat confused. In modern times, many see it as an extension of yesterday’s festival, as a Matreack-style ‘collection’, and whilst this may account for some of the festival’s popularity and modern form, it disregards the fact that the custom has continued in some manner, seemingly for as long as the City has existed.

Whilst it certainly existed before, it’s believed that the festival came to prominence alongside the advent of mass transport, as this presented many more opportunities for items to be lost. Due to the high quantity of lost property, each transport service has its own dedicated offices and officers, who are represented at the festival today, each with their own official seal and flag, hung on the walls. Before this bureaucratisation, there was no organised centre to today’s festival, and found items would be dealt with by individuals or by churches; today is, after all, Saint Dondrite’s Day, the patron saint of the lost, of treasure hunters, and of explorers.

There is little information available about the life Saint Dondrite, and many historians believe that they may never have existed at all, but were entirely fabricated by Hierarch Dunblein in a speech in 1267. The little information we do have indicates that Dondrite was a clergyman called Cintrol Egestein, who ‘lived a true and virtuous life.’ They were so virtuous, it seems, that they killed themselves in a ritual, becoming a protector-spirit for the church, a guide to ensure that the souls of the regularly dead would be able to find their way easily into the afterlife. Dondrite has since become an important figure in Church dogma; he is the antithesis to the Waylayer, the ancient adversary of the Church, ensnarer of human souls, master of sin, who wishes to mislead souls into his own version of the afterlife with false promises and claims that he is a god.

Followers of he Church who find valuable items are encouraged to hand them in to the Church, where they are usually sold to pay the clergy and upkeep the buildings. These donations would be seen as a mirroring of the actions of Saint Dondrite, and would therefore help keep them free of sin, as well as to maintain universal order, keeping the Waylayer at bay from walking abroad in the world of the living. As today is Saint Dondrite’s Day, there is a particular flurry of the donations, but this too is not the entire story of the festival’s origins; there are older folklorish associations between today and that which is lost.

The month of February has long had associations with the occult, particularly with the Grenin Waurst. It’s said that the last two or three days of February were stolen by this trickster-figure, for his own personal amusement. Over time, myths surrounding the Grenin Waurst, the Waylayer and cursed items known as ‘glimigants’ have become entwined together, leading to particular customs ascertaining to the treatment of found items today. In ancient Escotolatian folklore, an item which has been lost or disregarded for over a year gains a malevolent spirit to it, and may attempt to come back to haunt its former owners. This was originally a morality tale used to scare people from wasting resources in a scarce world, but over time this ‘malevolence’ became associated with waursts, particularly the Grenin Waurst and his ‘stolen’ days. The first known reference to this conflation is in the famous tale called ‘The Hunter and Her Lost Arrows’, where the eponymous arrows, by virtue of being lost, are able to travel into the ‘lost’ days at the end of February, where they are turned into glimigants by the Grenin Waurst, returning on a leap year to skewer the Hunter.

These ancient tales are still heeded today; after as many found items are taken from the tables as possible, the remainder are taken out of Saint Dondrite’s Hall and thrown into a large pyre in Revolution Park, just outside. The theory is that they will not be able to travel into the realm of the Grenin Waurst tomorrow, and therefore cannot become glimigants. As few today actually believe in the stories of glimigants, the burning is performed more out of a sense of tradition, and also as an opportunity to free up storage space.

Revellers are encouraged to come and peruse the tables for any souvenirs they want to take home with them. Whilst most of the truly valuable items will have been taken early in the morning (one year a Hamun Yauud opal sculpture was found, thought to be worth a fortune) by fortune-hunters and religious fanatics, there are certainly many interesting items later in the day. Indeed, the spectacle of the collection is in itself worth the visit; alongside whole rows of umbrellas in various conditions are sections full of cameras, toys, dummies, briefcases, hats, books and portable computers. Data sticks, rolls of film and written documents are quickly snapped up by artists and voyeurs alike. Stuffed toys are usually spared the fire by kind-hearted souls and any left behind are taken by the Children’s Union as a matter of course.

Alongside these pedestrian items are some real oddities. A mummified dog, a gem-encrusted human skull and a xylophone made from a number of rib bones were some of the most macabre finds on the tables of Saint Dondrite’s Day, besides the entire human body scattered about in cases in the hope that the evidence would be destroyed in the fire at the end of the day (it wasn’t and the murderer was apprehended shortly afterwards). Thieves have often been reported to use the festival as an opportunity to offload troublesome and difficult-to-shift stolen goods, and as a result there are specialised security operatives present from each of the transport agencies. Among the stranger finds were a park bench, a fake brain in a jar, a first edition copy of Hemuud’s Fantasies, a map of a fictional city and a bucket of live frogs.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Marshall Honnig’s Festival of Latecomers

  • The Feast of February