Laura Lam: Winter Holidays in ElladaBy
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This post is adapted from a post last year which appeared on Starmetal Oak’s blog
The holidays are upon us. In the country of Ellada in the world of the Archipelago, the pseudo-Victorian world where my books Pantomime & Shadowplay are set, the winter holidays are both similar yet different to ours. Pantomime is set in spring and summer, so these holidays don’t appear until Shadowplay, so this is a sneak peek!
There are two main winter holidays. The night before the longest night of the year is called The Night of the Dead. It’s slightly similar to our Halloween in that many feel the barrier between the living and the dead grow thinner. Many people hold dinner parties with séances for entertainment. Others who are more superstitious will stay inside, windows shut tight, so that the dead cannot come to haunt them.
The longest night of the year is known as the Lady’s Long Night or the Long Night of the Lady. Elladans and most others in the Archipelago worship two deities—the Lord of the Sun and the Lady of the Moon. The longest day of the year is, coincidentally, the Day of the Lord, but it’s not as largely celebrated, at least not among the common people. Micah Grey doesn’t celebrate it in the circus, for instance. After all, they already spend most of their waking hours in daylight.
But the Lady’s Long Night is a lavish affair, when people celebrate that the worst of the winter and darkness is over. A huge procession twines through downtown Imachara, the capital of Ellada, with floats topped with people dressed as the Chimaera out of myth dressed all in white. Many go to the cathedrals to listen to choirs and pray to the Lady of the Moon. Gifts are exchanged. It’s a time of hope and cheer to remind them of the good in life, just after they were reminded of the sinister in the Night of the Dead.
And, as a little extra bonus, here is a short snippet from Shadowplay, from a scene set during Lady’s Long Night. I took out half of the first paragraph due to spoilers:
We made our way down to the Celestial Cathedral as dusk fell. It was the night of the Penmoon, and so all of the Penglass glowed blue, tingeing the snow around us. I steeled myself against its wordless call.
On the long promenade that led down to the Snakewood Palace, floats draped with white fabric fluttered in the winter wind. Snowflakes danced from the clouds. We bustled through the crowds until we found a good view of the parade. Men and women dressed as Chimaera – angels, dragonkind, mermaids, and others – waved as the floats moved down the boulevard. They wore all white, as though frosted, the blue light of Penglass settling on them like a shawl.
Music drifted through the streets. Imachara was fragmented lately, with the rising Forester protests, but at that moment, any animosity faded away as the citizens listened to the flute music rising and falling with the whistle of the wind, mesmerized by the slow waving of the false Chimaera.
After the parade had made its way back to the Snakewood Palace, we went to the Celestial Cathedral, our feet sliding on the frosty pavement. It was the largest cathedral in the city; its spires of white and dark marble some of the tallest in the city.
I did not consider myself particularly religious, but there was something about sitting on a pew under such a high manmade ceiling, and seeing the monumental religious figures in the stained glass that made me feel so small. I liked the near silence, but for the low murmurs of a few prayers, or the shuffle of feet. Like holding one’s breath.
The High Priest trundled onto the stage, awkward in his heavy white and gold vestments. He led the people in prayer, and I mumbled the verses along with the countless others around me. I lifted my eyes to the windows, wondering if the Lord and Lady heard our prayers.
The priest finished his sermon, and relinquished the stage to the choir. Two dozen men and women in dark blue robes embroidered with stars lifted their faces toward heaven and sang, their sweet voices reverberating throughout the cathedral. Drystan’s hand found its way into mine. They sang of love of the night and the day, and how the darkness made the stars and moon shine that much brighter.
When the last note faded, the silence was absolute.
And then it shattered.