Winter Festivals

A typical "Christmas" celebration amongst the Nioneska, a northern tribe of magic users seen through the eyes of a member returning home for the festival and experiencing the more supernatural aspect of their way of life and be with family again.
A winner of the Advent Calender writing competition.


5. Welcoming the New Year

Onlookers sat in respect as shamans emerged from their homes, burning sage and sprinkling various concoctions.

Thorne ignored the tears that pricked his eyes from the sweet, oddly onion-like, aroma that wafted around them. Just to preoccupy his mind and keep from complaining he fiddled with the beads that were braided into his hair by a younger cousin. Though this didn't help the smell, it helped his sanity.

There weren't many who stayed in place in the Andruisk. Most fleed for high ground where the smoke wouldn't sink. From there one could see all the other clusterings of homes by the smoke and groups of people waiting for it to clear. Thorne sat in the cradling branches of the Great Tree like a handful of others and watched with a touch of boredom. Although it was a part of his culture, the way he'd been brought up and he wouldn't dare disrespect or change a thing, he sat in silent wonder as to why their ancestors thought this was a good idea. From how Callum described it, it did make sense. It was meant to cleanse everything and appease the spirits that protected the tribe.

Although the thought left as quickly as it had come, Thorne thought of sneaking down and going into the sauna to escape the smells. It would have been nice and hot and keep out the smell of burnt herbs and elixers. But he thought better of it when a little smoky fox sat in front of him, grooming it's smoky plumes. It oozed a feeling of warmth and innocence, much like the Great elk had left a feeling of pride and grace. The fox jumped and floated on the air, curling and coiling around Thorne's shoulders and face. It tickled his nose, though he knew it wasn't actual fur. And amazingly, it blocked out the smell.

"Thanks," Thorne muttered as he leaned back lazily onto another branch. This was a mistake that he realized only too late. Before he could catch a branch, he plummeted towards the ground. Just mere mili-moments before hitting the dirt, he was caught. He felt twigs pulls at his clothes and the smooth bells that dangled from the Tree brush against his skin. Opening his eyes warily, he saw that the boughs of the Tree had stooped down to catch him, leaving the fox sprite floating in the air and staring in confusion.

Slowly allowing his gaze to wander to his right he saw a figure draped in an elk skin, the head of the beast hiding the wearer's. It had beads wrapped around its antlers and the person held a drum with bright blue and green paint swirling on its face. They had made the Tree save him. But without so much as a word, they went along, beating on the drum and singing quietly in the language of the people.

Thorne, still dazed, noticed other shamans dressed in a similar manner. Bears, elk, seals, wolves; each one present and adorned with runes and beads and paint. And they all carried their drums, beating against them in time as if they were all part of the heart of some great behemoth. If reverberated in Thorne's chest and he thought maybe they had changed his heartbeat to match the one they had created.

Shaking himself of his awe and confusion, Thorne rolled out of the safe caress of the Great Tree and scurried through the smoke and onto the plateau. He could hear the laughter of those who saw his accident and the stand off with the elk shaman. It made his cheeks burn and redden as dark as wine. He ran his thumb over his medallion, feeling each carved line and tracing the family mark. At an embarrassing moment like that, he was glad his father wasn't watching. He would've joked about it all day long.

So he chewed on his own tongue and watched the ceremony until the laughter and jests sputtered and died.

He could barely make out shapes moving in the smoke. They gathered in fours and danced in a circle, beating their drums faster and faster until it was a monstrous roar that swallowed all other sounds. No birds could call loud enough to be heard from one tree over. No scream could pierce the ears of someone nearby.

Then suddenly, they stopped. It left a vacuum of noise that could almost be felt. Everyone stood as stiff as a chunk of wood on a dry day. No one dared breath. Not even the shamans who had all frozen where they stood. All except for one in each group. Those ones were easily told from the rest because of the string of beads carefully placed on the foreheads of the skins and the paint that encircled them. A wolf, an elk, and a bear. They stood tall and uttered a few words in the secret language of the shamans and spirits and brought their hands above their heads; and with a sweep of their arms, the smoke cleared, the scents faded into the familiar frost bitten pine, and a serene calm fell over the Andruisks that scattered the lands they all called home.

Feeling a weight on his shoulder, Thorne looked and found his foxy companion. Despite its fox-like appearance, it gave a howl. A true howl with all the soul of a wolf. It almost gave Thorne a smile if it were possible and resumed howling. Deciding to join in the celebration that was started by this little spirit's howling, Thorne threw back his head and gave a howl of his own. And before he had stopped, everyone around him had joined in. They howled and made their cries to the sky and the trees and stars hidden behind the sheet of blue. The shamans pulled back their skins and revealed their faces to join in. They all shared their voices to welcome the years to come and bid farewell to the years that passed.

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