In the Blood Skies universe, it’s difficult to find someone who hasn’t been directly affected by the war against the Ebon Cities. Even those families who haven’t lost a loved one to battle likely know another family who has, and since Southern Claw society is built around supporting the war effort it’s all but impossible to escape the harsh realities of what’s happening on the front lines. Humankind is holding onto its own existence by a thread, and no one from the closest advisers to the White Mother to the soldiers in the field to the shopkeepers in cities like Thornn and Ath have the slightest misconception regarding how tenuous our place in the world is.
This harsh existence mandates that there is very little “off-time” in Southern Claw daily life. Only a handful of holidays exist, and even these are celebrated largely in the home or in small-scale gatherings rather than in public functions, which the Southern Claw discourages due to the tempting targets such events would present to Ebon Cities aggressors.
The most widespread and popular holiday is known as “Giving Day”.
Though the “standard” calendar is still used in the World After the Black, year dating started over with Year 1 A.B. Once the Southern Claw was established (around A.B. 3) it was determined that a day of thanks should be commemorated in order to celebrate humankind’s achievement at surviving the genocidal attempts of the vampires, but no one was comfortable celebrating specific holidays from before The Black, as doing so would serve as a bitter reminder of a time we could never go back to. “Giving Day” instead was based on a conglomeration of Thanksgiving and various religious holidays.
Giving Day embraces the ideals of togetherness and rejuvenation. It’s a time for offering thanks to loved ones and celebrating the bonds of community by giving to others, even (and especially) if the person doing the giving has only very little to bestow.
The holiday is celebrated in early November, always on the last Friday of the month. All but essential businesses are closed, and some aspects of celebration begin earlier in the week, as shops generally offer discounted prices, work shifts are shortened whenever possible, and parents leave small gifts to be found by their children in odd places around the house (usually in the form of trinkets, candy, etc.). As Giving Day approaches, most adults will make a decision as to who they will give a gift to; normally each adult picks only one other person, but especially powerful or well off individuals may elect to give to more if they can manage it. Parents are only required to gift to their children (though most couples will gift to each other as well, regardless).
When Giving Day arrives, the holiday is commemorated with special foods (especially sweets, which are often in short supply but are stocked up by food merchants and dining establishments specifically for the holiday), singing, dancing, story-telling, small informal gatherings, and bestowing gifts. The gifts are sometimes traditional – toys, clothing, memorabilia, weapons, etc. – but just as often they’re not material belongings at all but promises of service, company, a special song or performance, or the means to take a short trip to a special location. Material goods aren’t always in heavy supply in the World After the Black, especially to workers and common people, so often times gifts take the form of reuniting with old friends, restoring long lost possessions or memorabilia, or spending time with someone even when there is little time to do so.
The end of Giving Day is marked by a small public feast – again, the Southern Claw likes to keep these events to a fairly low-profile to avoid presenting tempting targets to the Ebon Cities, but these particular gatherings are allowed so long as they are kept to 50 to 75 people, maximum – with some sort of wild game as a center piece and various side dishes prepared at nearby thaumturgic and organic farms. Oft times the local authority covers the expense and arrangement for these goods.
Often someone is inadvertently “left out” on Giving Day (usually people who live alone). People who are excluded from gifting sometimes try to keep that information hidden (out of embarrassment or shame), but if word gets out, then those who’ve been left un-gifted are often given free drinks and special toasts at the Giving Day feasts (though they’ll have to put up with a good bit of ribbing and teasing since clearly “no one liked them enough to give them a gift”).
The point of Giving Day, per its namesake, is to give: to give thanks, to give hope, to give appreciation to family and friends, and to give thanks for life, which is truly the most precious commodity in the World After the Black.
Steven Montano is the author of Blood Skies, an apocalyptic military fantasy series, and a full-time accountant. Somehow he hasn’t lost his mind yet, but the day is still young.