The Winter Harvest is often referred to by a number of other names, including the Festival of Sheets, the Festival of Death’s Due, and Death’s Washing Day. On this day, many Buentoillitants will gather in and around the City’s graveyards, where white sheets will be hung between posts amongst the graves. The sheets are soaked in a clear embalming oil for a week before the festival begins, in barrels or casks which are stored in mausoleums or in lychgates. Festival goers will paint their faces white and wear black clothes.
Revellers welcome the twilight hour with hymnodic chanting and the ringing of special bells, of a design similar to that which Death is thought to ring as it takes life. They will then take turns to walk through the oil-laden sheets, a bell ringing each time a person passes through. When all those willing to participate have ‘passed’, the sheets are then burned, and the participants stand around the fire, holding hands in silence.
The practice is thought to originate from the late 1670s, when a persistent seasonal disease (possibly a virulent strain of flu) killed hundreds of Buentoillitants at this time of year. The act of ‘passing through’ the veil is supposed to be symbolic of death, and it was thought that by enacting the ritual it might be possible to trick Death into thinking you were already dead for some time. The timing of the festival initially changed with perceived need, but the number thirteen’s association with unluckiness and death may be why the modern festival is performed on this particular day.
Fifteen people are known to have actually died during the festival, most from heart-related conditions, though one murder did occur in 1843. The earliest known mention of the festival is in Lycksette’s Travelles (1686), wherein the eponymous author describes witnessing the festival:
‘The localles here are exseptionalle scared of the coufing horour, a punyshment from God for thyr wyked ways. Theyr sheets they do drayp among theyr dede, and there they walke throu them, like spiryts asending to hevyn. Tis an unnervyng spektakle, on I do knott wysh to see agen. The sheets dyd move as yf blowyn by some spektrall otheworldlye bryse, out of tyme with that whych I dyd feyl on myne fase.’
Other festivals happening today:
- Coffee Shack Sack Race
- Computer Science for Everyone
- Buentoille Photographic Society Great Gallery Reveal