Retired Mod in the Playground
Join Date: Apr 2004
[Festival] Day of Forgiveness
DAY OF FORGIVENESS
As the sun reached its zenith above her, Alyna dove into the cool waters of the Gilae River. As the water washed off the ritual paints, she enjoyed a last moment of silent reflection before rising the surface. A tumult of noise struck her ears as her head broke the surface. The ringing of great bells, the crash of shattering plaster, cheering, the roar of a dozen bonfires, and already a distant rumble of drums. Shaking the river water from her hair, she accepted a robe from an elf on the banks, quickly wrapping it around herself. Even at noon on this first day of spring, the air had enough chill to bite.
The priest bowed to the other divers and her, spoke quietly with the spokesman, and then introduced himself to the assembled elves as Tobas. Tobas walked to each of the divers, calling each by name. When he reached her, Tobas smiled and greeted Gwenivyn. She smiled back at the priest, gave a slight bow, and then left to join the Day of Forgiveness celebrations breaking out throughout the city of Gillaen. A passel of gnomish and halfling children ran by, laughing, while a dwarf pressed a golden necklace into Gwenivyn’s hands. Laughing at the already inebriated dwarf, she also accepted a drink and a piece of warm bread from a human woman with ash covered cheeks.
While she took a bite of the bread, Gwenivyn once again decided that spending New Spring’s Day in a mixed-race city like Gillaen was the best way to celebrate – there was so much to do! The Second Feast would be starting soon in the halfling quarter, and after that she planned on taking part in the archery contests or perhaps watching a street play. And then there were the wrestling matches to watch, more feasting, and, of course, the Dance of the Moon. It even looked to be full moon this evening, so the dance would be especially lively. Finishing off the last of the bread, Gwenivyn joined the throng of celebrators, looking forward to introducing herself to some new friends.
A CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION
The Day of Forgiveness is a holiday known for its magnificent celebrations as well as its importance to almost every major religious tradition. Many marvel at the similarity of practices across races and cultures, especially since each tradition seems to have come about independently. Most attribute this to deific inspiration, and few are willing to tempt the wrath of not only their gods, but those of other traditions, by violating the holy day. Thus, the Day of Forgiveness – which is also called New Spring’s Day, as it falls on the first day of spring – is a day of peace. Even armies in pitched battle call truces rather than fight on New Spring’s Day. Adventurers often spend the holiday in civilized areas to celebrate, but even those deep in the wilderness observe the celebration and avoid battle as much as possible.
The Day of Forgiveness serves to wash away the accumulated sins of the preceding year and present a new start for the community. Despite this common theme, the particular practices observed change from race to race.
The morning of the festival is perhaps most complex in dwarven traditions. Throughout the year, each dwarf keeps a small metal plaque (or set of plaques) onto which he carves his sins and failures. These plaques are always of some useful metal - such as iron, copper, or steel - and never of precious metals. When the sun sets on the day before New Spring, each dwarf gives his plaque to the priest-smiths. Through the night the plaques are melted down and forged into useful implements, such as tools and cookware. Additionally, with the aide of magic, a large bell is made from bits of each plaque.
Organized by clan and family, the dwarves spend the night working the bellows and participate in ritual ceremonies and chant. At noon on New Spring's Day, the priest-smiths lead one last ceremony, which ends with the ringing of the new bell. This symbolizes the erasure of the sins of the past year, and the change of something negative into something useful for the community.
Once the bells finish tolling, the second part of the Day of Forgiveness begins. Until sunrise, the rigid codes of dwarven society are lifted. In essence, the normally staid dwarves throw themselves whole-heartedly into a huge party. Free ale is given away, and chaos reigns. Additionally, dwarves give away gifts to loved ones, enemies, and even perfect strangers - and many of these gifts are nothing to be laughed at. A dwarf who fails to give away something of great personal (and monetary) value often finds himself on the outs with peers after New Spring's Day.
Like the other races, the elves spend the first half of the day in prayers and ceremonies. Of course, elven traditions involve more personal meditation and reflection on the past year, as opposed to organized services. Each elf then chooses their greatest sin for the past year. Several volunteers from the community then have those sins written on themselves with special paints. Similar sins are counted by adding small marks after each word. At noon, these volunteers dive into a river or pond near the community, symbolically washing away the sins of the last year.
Once the swimmers emerge, they choose a new name for the leader of the elvish community, who then renames each other member of the community (in large communities, this task is delegated out). Until the next sunrise, each elf is considered an entirely new person, known only by this name. Members of other races are often confused when a longtime friend introduces herself again as someone else. This practice allows an elf to act in ways she normally would not; after all, she is a different person. On the next morning, everything done on the Day of Forgiveness is forgotten. No elf claims to remember anything past noon on New Spring's Day.
Gnomish celebrations of the Day of Forgiveness are somewhat similar to those of dwarves and halflings, but remain distinct from either. In the morning, the priests and other leaders of the community dress in pauper's clothing. As they spend the morning leading impromptu prayers and services, other gnomes will exchange clothing with the priests. The larger and more expensive the replacement, the greater the sin being atoned for. By noon, the priests are dressed in resplented - if mismatched - attire. As the sun reaches it's zenith, the priests loudly declare that the sins of the community have been replaced by virtues, and the real celebrations begin.
For the rest of the day, all roles are reversed - the poorest are treated like kings, and the wealthiest must beg even for a morsel of bread. Parents must ask the permission of their children to take part in the festivities - especially strict parents may find themselves dealt a dose of their own medicine. At sunset, numerous feasts and dances are held and small gifts exchanged - and magnificent pranks are pulled, some of the best of year.
Halfling traditions hinge on the close-knit nature of their communities. On the eve before New Spring's Day, each halfling adult draws a name from a basket. Overnight, each one paints a plaster mask representing the most egregious sin committed against them by the person who's name was drawn. The priests collect the masks before sunrise and distribute them. Throughout the morning, the community sets up for the first of the Five Feasts. Everyone can see the sins of past year written clearly on every face. An hour before noon, the community sits down for the feast - but the masks lack mouthholes, so no one can eat and speaking is difficult. For an hour, they sit at the table and consider the sins of the past year.
At noon, the priests announce that all the sins of the past year are now gone. Each halfling then shatters his mask on the ground, and then the first feast (preserved magically by the priests) begins. For the rest of the afternoon and evening, a series of Five Feasts, each with a particular theme decided upon by the community, are intermixed with games and small perfomances. During each feast, there is a contest for the best dish, and a great deal of social prestige can be gained for winning.
Like the other races, the morning of the Day of Forgiveness in human communities is dominated by religious ceremony. In human traditions, the priests build a small hut (wealthier communities or patrons may commission more lavish structures). Throughout the day, each member of community writes their worst sin of the past year on one side of a strip of paper, and a wish for the new year on the other. Each piece of paper is put on the walls of the hut, until every person has placed a strip. At noon, after other ceremonies and fasting throughout the morning, the hut is lit ablaze, sending both the sins and the wishes to the gods. Many collect some of the ashes and paint them on their cheeks.
The celebrations of the afternoon and evening include feasting and plays that poke fun at the community leaders, but the most important is the Dance of the Moon. At moonrise, a great dance begins that lasts until midnight. Various folk dances and dance contests take place, leading up to an hour before midnight, when a King and Queen of the dance are chosen. At midnight, their is one last dance to the traditional "Moonsong," and the end of which the partners exchange kisses.
New Spring’s Day falling on a cloudy or moonless night is considered an omen of ill times in the coming year, while a full moon is an uncommonly good sign.
Though several other so-called "savage" races observe New Spring's Day, the orcish traditions are the best known and most involved. In the morning, certain orcs volunteer to assume the roles of sins (often to cleanse themselves of these sins). The priests dress these volunteers in special costumes representing such sins as Cowardice, Weakness, and Stupidity. Through the morning, each sin is challenged to ritualized mock combat by other community members, who lose these bouts. After each victory, the priests modify the costumes, until at noon, each sin has become the opposing virtue - Cowardice to Courage, Weakness to Strength, and Stupidity to Cunning. Thus, the sins of the past become strengths for the future.
Surprisingly for such an otherwise chaotic culture, orcish celebrations in the evening of New Spring's Day focus on organized competitions. Almost any kind of challenge can be found, from dancing to tug of war to races to eating contests. The most popular occur later in the evening, beggining with wrestling, then rock throwing. In the night, the two biggest contests are the drumming contest, which is actually team based, and then the telling of epics by orcish skalds. Great honor is granted to the winners of any contest, but especially the last four.
Even with everything to do in the cities, the most interesting New Spring’s Day celebrations often occur when a group of adventurers find themselves alone for the holiday. Many adventuring groups are racially diverse, but not all are familiar with the traditions of their fellows. With elves claiming to be someone else, normally well-heeled gnomes clothed in second hand cloaks and careworn boots, masked halflings, humans building tiny grass huts to set them on fire, dwarves trying to give away their hard won treasure, and orcs challenging anyone to any competition imaginable, confusion can run rampant, but the importance of the day generally overcomes the potential conflicts.
On the Day of Forgiveness, the normal business of a town or even a large city generally comes to a halt. During the morning, most are in religious services, leaving only the most critical services operating. The afternoon and evening can be even more disruptive. With festivals going on everywhere, few shops are open, and many of those have small presents for potential customers – of which there are few. Dwarven shops are the exception; they are known to simply give away even expensive pieces of merchandise, leaving many with long lines in the afternoons. Most taverns give away free food and drink, and numerous open feasts provide alternate sources of very good food. The inns in a large town are likely to be full on this day, with no rooms to be found at nearly any price, but few get much sleep the night of New Spring’s Day. Those who do feel the need to bed down often can count of the hospitality of others on this holiday. Fights are rare for such large celebrations, but given the nature of the day, this is unsurprising. In fact, clerics who engage in combat (not including wrestling matches or similar events, of course) on this day risk losing access to their powers, even if they worship a war god.
Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please. - Mark Twain