A summary of select excerpts from the Chronulean Journal of Sociology and Spiders Issue #129, co-authored by W. Smith and C. Le Brau, on the transformation of the most prominent drow festival holiday of Carnalia.
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The Carnalia is one of, if not the most important holiday within the Twilight Republic, and remains a testament to how even some of the most conservative elven traditions are in fact highly malleable. The week-long festival, which features elaborate patrician-sponsored public feasts, temporary liberation of slaves, religiously sanctioned acts of class violence, traditional gift-giving, various devotions to the god of chaos and dreams Manmanuk, and raucous acts of drunken revelry in the streets, is frequently celebrated as the most anticipated event of the year.
The holiday, established within the century, appears to represent a compromise between traditional drow values and the ever-evolving circumstances of their establishment of colonies on the surface.
The Night of Knives
One must start the history of the Carnalia with its now-outlawed predecessor: the Night of Knives. During the reign of the Spider Queens, the Night was an annual event sanctioned by the Queen in order to worship and appease the Goddess of Venoms with the violent purge of the unworthy.
Eyewitness to these events was the historian Sabzyrm di la Kenafin, who provided this testimony:
"The Spider Queen, and hence the goddess herself, declared when circumstances befit that those of weak will and fortitude should be purged from the realm. During this period gangs of festival worshipers bearing sacrificial knives and loose stones would paint themselves in the blood and viscera of the fallen and engage in acts of vandalism, aggravated battery, home intrusion, murder, and cannibalism (the last three acts normally reserved exclusively for the Royal House). The streets would be filled with rivers of blood as those unfit were purged. Great and poor House alike would be besieged and tested against the mobs, who would particularly revel in the consumption of incapable elites. In these ways the population of the disparate poor was controlled to levels manageable for the food supply, and the powerful Houses did not grow complacent."
A New Synthesis
As the monarchy was overthrown and the goddess expunged from elven society, this holiday was made illegal by the new Senate assembly, who more than likely saw it as a threat to their growing power and legitimacy.
These practices of the Night of Knives, however, contained some inertia among the populace. In the record of the last hundred years there have been statistically significant upticks of capital crimes during the period previously reserved for the Night. This testifies to the staying power of the tradition. Seeing as these traditional cathartic desires required an output, a compromise was struck between the institutions of government and religion to usurp the old Night of Knives for their own purposes.
In the year 570 ATL the first Carnalia was declared, in cooperation of the Senate, who had officially designated the holiday. Of the various new gods at their worship, Manmanuk was chosen to be the benefactor of this new holiday, in no small part to his attribution to causing the Tidal Lock itself (and hence opening up vast regions of the surface to the drow, who bear a sensitivity to sunlight).
So it was declared by Amom, the Rememberer of Manmanuk:
"For a period of one week at the conclusion of the solar calendar the great mask of Manmanuk shall be hoisted above the Twilight City to cast its pall. Festivities shall be had, and those showing devotion to the Forgetting God, to whom we owe our ascension, shall prepare feasts to be shared among the public, lest the faithful ransack their homes and take what the chaos god demands. Slaves shall be masters and masters shall be criticized without retaliation. Gifts shall be given among families. No vendettas between Houses shall be pursued. There shall be revelry in the streets, and let no person be withheld from their god-ordained right to mischief and misdemeanor."
Gifts given during Carnalia are typically small things with hints towards violence. Knives and elaborate letter openers are typical favorites, as are servings of properly-labelled poisons and mead. Frequently they tend towards the joking or ironic, such as the 'knife to stab your mistress with', or the 'effigy of an impotent man'.
Another popular gift to emerge during Carnalia is that of the spell scroll, which has become much cheaper to produce in recent years. Most frequently these are tightly wrapped up and hidden within other gifts, such as embedding one around the wrapped tang of a dagger, hiding one within the mouth of a household god-idol, or stuffing one behind the pane of a hand mirror.
Contents of these hidden scrolls often include ironic joke spells or useful cantrips. For instance, a scroll hidden on a dagger might contain a spell to mend bleeding, or one hidden in a silk rope might assist in freedom of movement.
A common iteration of this, particularly as gifts to children, is a puzzle-idol of Manmanuk. These idols, which greatly vary in appearance and function, are said to grant strange and alarming dreams to those to whom it was gifted until they can solve the puzzle and extract the magic scroll from the idol. Such puzzles may be mechanical in nature or be inscribed with riddles.
An innovation upon the Magic Mouth spell appears to be the source of these idols, and previous research has found that dispelling these enchantments renders the puzzle-idol impossible to relinquish its reward.
Inversion of Social Pyramid
Slaves of house holding status are considered free during this time, and they are liberated to criticize their masters. In the early days of the Carnalia's institution, this often resulted in retaliations post-event, but has since been regulated by the priests of Manmanuk, who are capable of inflicting horrible nightmares, purportedly even madness and death by fright, upon those who do not respect the activities of the holiday.
Since then, these comeuppance have been largely accepted by the city's heads of households as inevitable and important.
Most popular of foods, particularly among the Houseless and slaves, has been warmed spiced cider and bread - foods long to have been considered extremely rare and precious underground. These two, along with other surface staples, were traditionally acquired only during surface raids, and were hence reserved for Houses of high caloric exertion and favor with the Royal House.
Since then, however, they have shifted to being deigned a lower class food, due to their recent overabundance. Expansions into farmland in the Feyfjord and trade among the Southlands has made both of these things abundant, resulting in surpluses of caloric energy that have not existed in drow society since well before recorded history.
Recently, this freedom has also extended to the city's undead, which were previously thought to have been mindless and hence immune to the social inversions of the holiday. As such, Carnalia is a time when skeleton, zombie, ghost and wraith alike will wander the streets, partaking in revelry and mischief without fear. This has led, particularly among those Houses with preserved lineages of undead family members, to the repeated criticisms of the Houses' matriarchs by their ancestors.
Particular so-called beasts of the house have also been given this freedom, resulting in numerous reports of manticores, giant snakes, dire bears, and other strange things roaming the streets during this time. And though murder is explicitly frowned upon during the Carnalia, the definitions of 'mischief and misdemeanors' often vary from species to species, resulting in a few rare instances of intervention by the magistrates to moderate the carnage.