Christmas in Ragaris

A certain amount can be learned about Christmas on Ragaris from the end of “We Do Not Kill Children” and the rest of the canon, especially “The Queen’s Gift”, which is here http://www.penelopewallace.com/the-queens-gift/. I do know a bit more – although it should be remembered that festive customs always vary from country to country, region to region, economic class to class, and family to family.

Advent

The four weeks before Christmas were in theory a time of fasting. The minimum for a devout person would be to refrain from eating meat, except fish, on all days except Sunday. The poor of course had little meat anyway. Some (again, rich) people refrained from wine, and asked the cooks to cook plainer, with less spice.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

In Stonehill, as many fires and lights as practically possible were extinguished on Christmas Eve, and a crowd gathered outside the city. There a young girl representing Mary carried a flame back to the Cathedral, riding a donkey. Candles were then lit for Midnight Mass, and each person carried light back to their own home.

(The Christmas following the killings at Ferrodach, the part of Mary was assigned to the surviving child, Filana. It’s not clear whether she appreciated this.)

A similar tradition operated in villages and towns elsewhere in Marod and the north-west, but was impracticable in the largest cities, Makkera and City Qayn. Plainly it would have been difficult in bad weather.

Midnight Mass was widely attended, partly because those who wished to be in favour with church and state needed certification that they’d attended Mass three or four times a year. (This rule was observed more strictly in Defardu and Ricossa.)

Following Mass, most people went home, but in Stonehill some of the devout stayed in the Cathedral all night, praying or sleeping on the floor. Makkam had done this a few times in the past. There was then another service.

Most of the above relates to the Cathedral, and I don’t know how the other churches in the city fitted in.

After church, a nibble, and some gift-giving (see below), the fast would be broken by a feast, as lavish as could be afforded. At the Castle in Stonehill, and probably in all large houses throughout the continent, this feast plainly lasted most of the afternoon, and would be accompanied by entertainment – music, jugglers and acrobats. In the absence of freezers and tins, there would be considerable use of dried fruit, as in traditional British Christmas fare, but the centrepiece would have been roast meat.

Towards the end of the royal feast, the Queen or King would present gifts or rewards, a little like our New Year’s Honours List, but more tangible.  In Jaryar, some of the greater lords or dukes copied this custom, something regarded by a few as arrogance.

The evening would finish off with dancing, of the type seen at ceilidhs or in Jane Austen adaptations, allowing scope for Kai to annoy Queen Malouri by dancing too often with Makkam – or further east, for Riodran b’Nida to kiss Zinial b’Met in the snow.

Some families also went in for quieter games, such as the guessing games mentioned in the b’Shen household in “The Servant’s Voice.”

All shops and taverns were shut, but anyone who wanted company (or lacked a home) could usually find a welcome and festive cheer at a monastery, most of which opened doors and cooked generously.

Gift-giving

Normally, throughout the continent, gifts were exchanged between spouses or lovers, and given by parents to children. One of Kai’s earliest memories was receiving a Christmas puppy.

Near the beginning of “The Servant’s Voice”, Miya is seen sewing new sleeves onto her gown. (Clothes in more than one colour were normally reserved for the Ricossan rich, so buying and attaching contrasting sleeves was a way of appearing upwardly mobile.) Doubtless the sleeves were her husband’s Christmas gift.

Masters/mistresses normally gave gifts to their squires. Hassdan and Alida took considerable thought over gifts for their surrogate daughter Meril; and Dorac had some trouble working out what to give Gormad.

In Ricossa it was customary for heads of households to give gifts to all their servants – in Jaryar and Haymon this was restricted to one’s personal attendant, for example Talinti to Kariam.

In poor families the gifts were doubtless often eatable.

One year an almost illiterate man called Tor took a lot of trouble to write a love letter as his Christmas gift. A few years later, this was the only item Dorac took with him to the Old Stones.

The 12 days

The next day things loosened up a bit. Taverns were allowed to open. There was more dancing, but also sporting events (like the wrestling Kai remembered losing to Saysh), hunts, and rowdy games, in the streets if weather permitted. The northern Marodi town of Derbo held a St Stephen’s Day race through the streets carrying holy statues borrowed from the churches.

The Christmas season lasted the full twelve days, with no courts sitting, and as little business of any kind as possible – with the exception of seasonal fairs. For those whose work normally kept them in the city, this was a good time to visit relatives outside, opportunities which both Kai and Makkam made use of. Kai would visit his home at Rayf to see his father (and stepmother, half-brother, eldest sister, brother-in-law and nephew) and tell them stories of life in the King’s Thirty. As far as Rayf was concerned, the King’s Thirty only had one member. Makkam would travel to the monastery where her mother was a nun, and where she herself had been brought up. The nuns here would also demand news, but in this case expected her to keep her own role in events (if any) to a humble minimum.

New Year and Epiphany

The only customs I’m aware of for New Year come from Haymon and Falli. In many Haymonese households, spooky stories were told round the fire – but in some families it was customary to make a wish for the New Year, and send it up with the smoke. When Meriden was a child, one of his brothers always wished for the biggest pie in the world to eat, and one year Meriden imitated him – but more often he wished for travel and adventure.

In Falli stories were also told on New Year’s Eve – without a break from dusk to dawn.

In many parts of Ragaris, the feast of Epiphany (6th January) was a time for the rich and powerful to imitate the Magi by acts of generosity. Dorac, Kremdar, and any other members of the Thirty with their own estates would expect to visit them, and hold a feast for the tenantry. Meanness here was resented. They would also be expected to use the Epiphany Mass to privately promise or publicly announce gifts to the poor and/or the church (or to the church to pass on to the poor.)

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all readers from the PPI Blogger! The blog will resume in the New Year.

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