Common Holidays of the Houselands & Cottington Woods
"There’s nothing like a good party to put you in
the festive mood. Let’s celebrate!”
"To celebrate a festival means: to live out, for some special
occasion and in an uncommon manner, the universal assent to the world as a whole.”
"You cannot celebrate the Festival of Light before combating
the darkness within!”
The following are just some of the most common Holidays celebrated throughout the Houselands and Cottington Woods. There are many more holidays, festivals, and celebrations beyond what is listed here.
When the wind blows hard and cold down from the frozen Frostworth, and snow blankets the Woods in the sparkling dust of Winter, when the light has fled such that the night reigns as the longest and darkest of the year, the people of the Houselands gather about their Hearths to celebrate the Winter's Fire - or WinterFire as it is commonly known.
Stories say that this is the day the word "Fire" was first Written, when the First Patron gave the Written World warmth to chase away the winter's cold. The Men of Science and some who favor Noss's stories say that this is when Curious Noss first struck two stones together, creating the spark that would start all inventive creations. Many, however, argue that moment was well after the word "Fire" was written. Others like to say that the Fire was given by the Fairies - or stolen from them, or won from them by a mortal who struck a better bargain. But even with all the other stories that tell of the first WinterFire, all generally agree it was the day the Word Fire Was Written, and so the name came to be.
Whatever the legend, this is the day in the Written World where the Longest Night of the year passes, and the next day (WinterFire Day) the light of the sun begins to reclaim the seasons, leading towards Spring. It also marks the New Year, when Tales begin anew. Beginnings of any kind are auspicious this day, just as endings the night before are blessed. While the Spring Equinox may mark the end of Winter and is a cause of celebration of new life, WinterFire is a reminder that the Winter will end and a time to gather to tell new Tales in preparation for the new year -- to gather round a fire to remember that the sun always returns and indulge in a spirit of companionship and goodwill and chartiy, to share what one has with others. It is tradition, on the night of WinterFire, to give a gift of something Written (or drawn), whether a book, or a story, a letter or a poem, or even just a name embellished on paper.
But for many in the Houselands, WinterFire is also known as "Gifting" and is a time when people exchange gifts, do good deeds, and generally try to help each other out. It began long ago, so the Stories say, near where the Cotting House now stands, deep in what was then called the Ealdwood by the Fair Folk and the Cottington Woods by those mortals who had come to make it home. An old toymaker made his first toy, a gift for a child in need, and began a tradition of crafting toys for all the children of the Woods, delivering them in the middle of the long dark night so that they would have a surprise awaiting them come morning. Festia, his wife, so taken by his deeds, wrote of them, until he became well known and caught the attention of the Fairies; the story of the First Gift moving even the Fair Folk. Jack Frost, so delighted by his deeds and the gift given him, Touched him with Fairy Magic to make him Immortal to that he could continue to deliver his toys to children forever. The people of the Woods called him the HearthFather, given his kind nature like that of a father and his coming through the Hearths to leave gifts, and the name Nicholas was lost to all but the most dedicated of scholars. The children, though, had a different name: Papa Jingle, they called him, for the sounds of the Bells upon his sleigh. Listen, they would say, if you listen with your heart, you can hear his bells upon the wind.
Some, though, wonder if it were not Festia's writing that made the HearthFather immortal. Her stories so inspired that she earned Noss's favor and became a Patron, of the WinterFire celebration and celebrations of all kinds. She wrote many stories - including those of the Kringles, fairies much like elves (and governed by their rules) who came to help Papa Jingle make all the toys for the children in his workshop. And Papa Jingle always helped with the toymaking, using the same tools he had with that very first special toy, for crafting the gifts was his joy.
To their parent's delight, children work hard to earn Papa Jingle's favor in hopes that he would bring him a toy. However, some parents found the promise of toys was not enough and began to tell stories of a bogeyman, the Krampus, who would steal away naughty children in the cold nights of Winter. This creature founds its way into some of Festia's stories, despite her husband's plea, for he hated those tales. Children often carry bells, because, so the story says, the Krampus avoids the sound.
The Woods has many other traditions not as widely followed in the Houselands. It is said that those with a kind heart and generous soul might find their way to see the Tree of Jewels on this night, welcomed on this one night by the Guardian there. Many Woodlanders decorate trees in or near their homes with candles or magical lights in honor of the Tree of Jewels and in the hopes, perhaps, of earning the favor of the Fairies of the Forest on this night, so some say, the slumbering fairies of spring begin to awaken.
The Riding Hoods caution any from wandering too deep into the Woods - many dangerous and dark creatures roam the woods seeking a different ending to the year. Any Woodlander knows this for truth, and though it may seem counter-intuitive, they all carry lights when walking that night, to signal to the fairies that they are friends, that they are of the light that is returning. It is also why many sing songs, carols of the season: to earn the favor of fairies (they say the Guardian is fond of human music) and soothe the hearts of any beasts or dark creatures that may be lurking deep in the woods. It is said that one's house is blessed if carols are sung at the doorstep or within the Hearth, and it has become a favored pastime of the holiday for some. There is magic in song, they say.
Every year, Festia writes of the WinterFire, of the gifts and celebrations, of the kindness and joy of family and friends. Papa Jingle brings toys to nice children, and people across the land come together to celebrate the return of the light and the gifts of fire, friendship, and goodness. The magic of the holiday lives within the hearts of those who truly believe.
While many throughout the Houselands celebrate that Midsummer with games, stories, songs, and festivities, those who dwell within the Woods hold the celebration with especial esteem: it is said, after all, that the Woods are Fairy-Enchanted, and that the Fairies themselves will often come out to sing and dance within the Fairy Circles.
For those who have not lived long within Cottington Woods, these stories may
be a thing straight out of the fairy tales themselves, and there are those who
scoff at the idea of the Fairies coming to celebrate. But still, every year,
there are those who travel to the Woods for the Midsummer celebration and come
back with fanciful tales... and still those who never come back at all.
Throughout the Houselands, sweets and milks and other things are left on doorsteps at night, and it is considered a sign of good luck if the offerings are gone by morning. Within the Woods, these offerings are often left in Fairy Circles for the Little Folk, and doors are often unlocked – or even open – to show the Woods and its Fair Folk that they are both welcome and that the Woodlanders have not forgotten that they are in fact the guests here.
Even so, Woodlanders are careful to avoid entering a fairy circle unless invited, and while Midsummer does not carry the same threat as Mists Eve, an unwary mortal might still find themselves wisked away not to be seen for a hundred years, if at all.
The Woodlanders celebrate with games and competitions, songs and music, flower crowns and dancing. It is a joyous time to come together and celebrate all that the Woods are and give thanks to the Fairies within.
As the harvest draws to a close and autumn begins to fade to winter, folks about the Houselands prepare for the upcoming Harvest Day, and the two dark evenings that surround it: Lost Eve (which some call the Harvester's Eve) and Mists Eve (called the Harrow's Eve by some, especially within the Asylum, or in those places where the tales of that particular Patron are often spoken on that night).
Last Harvest Day is the celebration of the last of the harvest for the year and the end of Autumn. This is usually celebrated with feasting, pumpkin carving, and the creation of gifts to appease the fairies and the dead for the coming evening.
It is said that in the evenings surrounding the Last Harvest Days, the Lands of the Dead, the Fairy Mists, and even the Slumberlands grow closer to the world, allowing for strange encounters. Many people put up superstitious signs and symbols and try to sleep through it. Others choose to enjoy gatherings and dares. Many people wear masks and disguises on that night to fool evil spirits and such creatures, though in many cities masks are worn only at parties and celebrations held indoors. Those who live within the Woods celebrate too, but they whisper it is because no fool would be walking the Woods on the Mists Eve. They know that the stories are true, and that all manner of creatures walk the Woods that night.
Lost Eve (or the Harvesters Eve) is the night before Last Harvest Day, and is more strongly associated with the Lands of the Dead.
Mists Eve is the night of Harrow’s Eve (or The Harrowing), and is more strongly associated with the Slumberlands.
Both nights the Fairy Nights draw close and pull in the unwary.
Some people refer to both evenings as Mists Eve, as tales say the dead can be seen either night and Nightmares haunt both.
In more recent years, especially about the Woods, many have taken to refer to the two nights and days celebrations as "The Harrow's Reaping" (or the Harrowing) because of the many dangers that are whispered to befall the unwary and the foolish. Certainly if ever there was a night to gather about a fire and tell stories of horror, the dead, and the lost, this would be the night... but equally foolish, too, to answer the knock at the door that follows the telling of the Tales.
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