Christmas starts in Farynshire in the port of Sylnmouth, specifically in the Sylnmouth Sentinel that has overlooked the port for over two hundred years.
On the 1st of December every year the Sentinel’s guiding light, historically used to guide ships into the safe waters of Sylnmouth Harbour, turns red and green and sweeps across the boats and pontoons. Then the fireworks erupt over the city, signalling the start of the festivities.
Sylnmouth homes have already put up and decorated their trees, and at the lighthouse’s signal everyone switches the Christmas lights on. This starts in the boats on the water, then the homes that overlook the harbour, and then ripples back from the sea into the suburbs and villages. And it does not stop on Sylnmouth’s boundary. Watched from the air, it must look like a wave of light washing out from Sylnmouth across the whole of Farynshire.
Rookpot tor lights up when it gets the relayed signal from the coast.
The Ayres, one of the oldest Peer Families, decorate all of the city’s streets. Their own magnificent hall, The View, is festooned with decorations and lights, and adorned fir trees line the drive from the road up to the house. The View is the centre of the festive party season for the Peer families, and beautiful balls and celebrations are held every night in December.
The Peer families give the first donations to the Doorway Feast that begins as soon as the lights are switched on, and goes on until twelfth night. Christmas meals are put out for all of the city’s citizens to enjoy in the entrances to the most famous public buildings: The Raven Theatre, The Lilac Beech, The Library, The Museum, the Cathedral, and the Council Chambers, and all the churches. Everyone donates what they can, and an army of volunteers prepares the meals, taking them to the homes of those who are housebound. This means that Christmas dinner happens across many nights, but it is different to the dinners everyone enjoys on the 25th because it is held with the community, out in the Squares, or on the church pews, the cold city air filled with the rich smells of roasting meat, hot broth and sizzling vegetables.
If snow falls on the city, the inevitable happens and, despite the City Council’s warning and lines of cones, the most precipitous street in the city, the Steep, becomes an impromptu sled run. It truly is a Christmas miracle that nobody has been killed during this increasingly popular annual event. Participants can compete to:
- Be the Most Intact Sled to Arrive at the Bottom of the Steep
- Have the Most Father Christmases on Board
- Have the Most Christmassy Sled
The winners of each category receive a bottle of hot ginger rum and a net of satsumas (and a year’s worth of bragging rights).
A giant blue spruce dominates the centre of Dameg Square during the Christmas period. The tree is chosen from the forests on the mountain of Gwyrddlas in the Bloon Peaks, and transported to the city by train from Hen Ffydd. It is Rookpot Council’s gift to the city, and it always arrives with small parcels in the branches that anyone can take. Over the years, people have placed their own homemade presents amongst the tree’s needles for strangers to take. Dameg Square’s permanent sylvan resident, the bent oak that sits on the edge of the gorge, slumbers at this time of year, oblivious of the baubles, tinsel and lights that have been draped all over it by passers-by.
The dark gothic Cathedral is the focus of Christmas celebrations in the Square. Thousands of candles make the colours in the stained glass windows blaze brightly at night. On Christmas Eve the pews are full of Rookpotians singing carols and sharing mince pies and a few glasses of sherry. At the end of the official service everyone spills out into the streets and the singing continues as people wander home or gather around the trees in the Square with mugs of hot chocolate and coffees (sometimes with an added shot of rum or whisky) from Lacey’s, the most popular and creative coffee shop, open late into the night at this time of year. Eventually everyone makes their way home before Father Christmas begins his rounds.
It’s pantomime season in The Raven Theatre in EassenBren Square. There are usually at least three different productions throughout the season, as well as more serious offerings, ranging from family friendly through to definitely not for those with a delicate constitution. You do not need to go into the Theatre to see a show. Open air orchestral performances, formal and informal dances are performed on the steps of the theatre, no matter the weather.
Many of the artists’ covered workshops opposite The Lilac Beech are taken over by Christmas projects. Hundreds of unique decorations can be bought straight from the artist, many of which appear on the fountain or on the trees in Dameg Square.
In the city’s (probably the county’s) most famous bookshop, The Lilac Beech, shivering visitors pour themselves a mug of wassail from the punch bowl, and then sit in the comfy armchairs in front of the open fire. The small Christmas tree twinkles with lights, and paper chains loop over and around the bookshelves. All of the Christmas cards received by the bookshop are strung together and hung from the ceiling beams. Holly and mistletoe entwine around the wrought iron staircase that links all the floors together. The shop bustles as people try to find a last minute present, shuffling around the tables piled high with books. Their purchases are placed in colourful paper bags and tied with string; if you see anyone with such a bag around Rookpot you know they have been to The Lilac Beech.
In Riversouth, Christmas, like everything else, revolves around the Meyrick.
The Meyrick’s Gift is presented to the incumbent Meyrick, and is traditionally from all of the people in Riversouth. A procession of children make their way up the Zag to the White Palace, and the Meyrick opens the gates and accepts the gift. Since the mid-nineteenth century the gates have then been left open and the children lead the local people into the White Palace for the Commoners’ Feast. This is a lavish affair held in the Golden Hall, and it is the only time of year that most people ever get to see inside the White Palace, let alone attend a party paid for by the Meyrick.
On Christmas day every Riversouth house will find a gift outside their front door, wrapped in blue and white paper and tied with a silver ribbon. The small silver card is inscribed with the words: From your Meyrick.
The Ocean Frost Ball is the most anticipated event in the Farynshire social calendar. This invitation-only gala brings together the county’s high society in a glittering event that raises eye-watering amounts of money for various good causes.
The only limitations placed on the design of the ball is that it must adhere to the Meyrick’s colours of silver and blue. The best, biggest and most luxuriant white tree is felled from the Meyrick’s personal forest (which is made up of albino versions of oaks, beeches, elms, firs, spruces etc.) and brought to the centre of the Golden Hall where it is embellished with ropes of thin silver loops and chains and bright bejewelled (with real jewels) baubles.
The guests waltz around the tree to music played by orchestral groups from Farynshire, and the Meyrick’s own hand-picked string quartet leads the way. Once the dancing is over the guests move outside to the wide terrace that overlooks the ocean. This terrace sits at the very edge of the White Crag. A magnificent silver and blue fireworks display entertains the guests, and the rest of Riversouth, and any seafolk that might be passing by.
After the fireworks is the feast, widely known as the Feast of Farynshire. A selection of wines is served in crystal glasses: rich ruby root from the vineyards on the distant slopes of Gwyrddlas, sparkling Marwolaeth White, and the slightly salty Pink Prydferth. The menu is always made up of produce from around Farynshire, and could look something like this:
Smoked salmon from the River Spurtle with fresh dill from the fields of Cheth Aracely
Roasted parsnip soup with fresh cream from the small village of Hessen.
Turkey from Riversouth farms
Sea bass caught from the sea around Riversouth.
Please help yourself to anything from the mountains of crispy roast potatoes, parsnips, butter-glazed sprouts and broccoli, honeyed carrots, and red cabbage with walnuts and apple (all harvested from the gardens, orchards and fields from across the county).
Rum-soaked Christmas pudding
Spiced apple, smooth ice cream and cranberry port.
After dinner, if the guests are able to, there is more dancing. For those who are too stuffed to dance there are large fires and hot ginger punch.
For a wilder Christmas, see how they celebrate in Caer Ddewin, Brish. Lake Quietus and Gnivil Forest