The Winter Festival (or gieda eyozehüaz ün süogem, the “happy day of winter”) is one of the most important folk holidays for the people of Deralan. During the last full moon before the last month of the year, people gather in their city squares to celebrate the past year with food, music, gift-giving, and dancing in the streets.
Most winter holidays on Earth usually originate from a particular religious observance. The Winter Festival is less focused on a specific event in Deru theism; instead, its significance is attributed to both the physical and spiritual connotations winter has for the Deru people.
It is said that the first winter happened at the end of the First Age, the age when only gods ruled, when the goddess of the moon went on a journey to save her husband, the god of the sun, from dying and plunging the world into endless night. She left a piece of her essence to safeguard the home of the gods, creating the twin moons of Deralan as they are known today. However, despite her success, she was not able to stop new spirits from forming in the chaos: gods of darkness, of ice, of cold, of famine. In short, winter was unleashed. The sun god, though restored, was unable to keep burning constantly, and so night was created and the Second Age, the age of mythical heroes, began.
In less mythological and more geographical and socioeconomic terms, winters in Deralan can often be harsh, with temperatures dropping below freezing and brutal snowstorms, especially in the south and west of the country, burying the landscape. For many poor farmers and artisans, winter means struggling with both cold and hunger, relying on the fall harvest to maintain them through the long night of the year.
The New Year’s Festival (gieda eyozehüaz ün u küzëftem zëcodus, or “happy day of the new year”) is a more important holiday for the Deru, as it marks the return of spring and the beginning of the planting season. The Winter Festival grew out of local celebrations of winter, showing solidarity with each other as hard times approached by giving thanks and throwing one last party before the bitter cold truly sets in. As such, the actual festivities during the festival vary greatly from region to region and town to town, though certain similarities can be found.
All celebrations involve the community coming together in a public square and sharing food. In small towns and villages, this usually amounts to a big potluck. In larger cities, local cooks and shopkeepers will set up stalls alongside regular citizens to sell special holiday treats. Neighbors and family members may also exchange gifts of food with each other to celebrate the holiday. Food is the customary gift during the Winter Festival, as the lack of food is a major concern in the coming months.
No festivities are complete without music and dancing during the Winter Festival lasts long into the night. Simple folk dances are performed, often encircling large bonfires lit as a reminder of the warmth of spring that awaits them. In many places, fireworks light up the night sky as a final sendoff to the old year. Imagine if New Year’s Eve celebrations happened in early December, or if New Year’s Day were celebrated in March.
Early Winter Festivals were celebrated during the first full moon of winter and developed as extensions of harvest festivals. After the war for independence, King Ühüëyan reformed the calendar and assigned finite dates to major holidays. He divided the year into six months of about sixty days each, and moved the Winter Festival from the beginning of winter, in the middle of the fifth month, to the last full moon of the fifth month. This was done to provide space between it and the fall harvest, as well as keep the date from moving year to year. Before the calendar, most people marked the first day of winter by the first snowfall, caring not for when the solstice came. As such, Winter Festivals could vary wildly from year to year depending on precipitation and temperature. Now, the Winter Festival would always be at a secure date and, even better, always at least a month before the spring equinox which marked the New Year. Many rural communities still use their old reckonings to mark the Winter Festival, but the practice is slowly being phased out or modified to align with the royal calendar. Winter may have started a few weeks back at this point, but the true cold usually doesn’t begin to set in until the last month of the year anyway, so the date and the weather usually align.
During these festivals, it is customary to greet all fellow revelers with a hearty greeting of “Süogem eyozehüaz!” or “Süogem celüaz!” These translate to “Happy Winter!” and “Blessed Winter!” respectively. On this day, I would like to wish all of you a happy and blessed winter as well. This year has been an exciting one for me with many ups and downs, and I hope each and every one of you reading this can enjoy this holiday season to its fullest.