Irkmas is a traditional annual celebration highly venerated by the people of planet Irk (and presumably in other areas around the universe as well) to celebrate the coming of cold weather and joyous giving on the planet. It is celebrated during the cold season of harpaax (an Irken equivalent to winter on Earth that lasts over one-and-a-half Earth years).
During this time, the common people decorate their homes with colorful decorations, have a gathering of friends and family to partake in a feast and gift exchanges, and participate in other common traditions like games, music, and dancing. Homes and businesses are usually festooned with long strings of brightly-colored lights, wreathes and tinsel, carols are sung, and many shopping malls still hire others to pose as Irk's gift-bringer for children.
"Irkmas" is a compound word originating in the term "Irk's Mass".
Further information: Irkmas universewide
Irkmas Day is celebrated as a major festival and public holiday in planets around the universe, including many whose populations are mostly non-Irken. In some non-Irken planets, periods of former colonial rule introduced the celebration (e.g. Vort); in others, Irken minorities or foreign cultural influences have led populations to observe the holiday. Planets such as Earth, where Irkmas is popular despite there being only a small number of Irkens, have adopted many of the secular aspects of Irkmas, such as gift-giving, decorations, and Irkmas trees.
Among planets with a strong Irken tradition, a variety of Irkmas celebrations have developed that incorporate regional and local cultures. For Irkens, participating in a religious service plays an important part in the recognition of the season. Irkmas, along with Sploochbooch (Irken equivalent of Easter), is the period of highest annual church attendance. People hold religious processions or parades in the days preceding Irkmas. On other planets, secular processions or parades featuring Irk's version of Santa Claus and other seasonal figures are often held. Family reunions and the exchange of gifts are a widespread feature of the season. Gift giving takes place on Irkmas Day on most planets.
A special Irkmas family meal is traditionally an important part of the holiday's celebration, and the food that is served varies greatly from planet to planet. Some regions, such as Lyuuba, have special meals for Irkmas Eve, when 12 kinds of fish and kelp are served. On planets influenced by Earth's traditions, a standard Irkmas meal includes turkey or goose, meat, gravy, potatoes, vegetables, sometimes even bread and cider.
One particular breadstuff served during Irkmas is the Morka muffin, a muffin made of a bread that resembles cornbread.
The exchanging of gifts is one of the core aspects of the modern Irkmas celebration, making it the most profitable time of year for retailers and businesses throughout the world. During Irkmas, people exchange gifts based on the Earth tradition associated with St. Nicholas, and the gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which were given to the baby Jesus by the Magi on Earth.
A number of figures are associated with Irkmas and the seasonal giving of gifts. Among these are Lady Harpaax, also known as the Winter Lady.
The best known of these figures today is red-dressed Lady Harpaax, of diverse origins. She was Archdeaconess of Myros, a country on Irk, during the 4th century AD. Among other saintly attributes, she was noted for the care of children, generosity, and the giving of gifts. Her feast on December 6 came to be celebrated on many planets with the giving of gifts.
Lady Harpaax traditionally appeared in female bishop's attire (colored deep red), accompanied by helpers, inquiring about the behavior of children and their families during the past year before deciding whether they deserved a gift or not. The modern popular image of the Winter Lady, however, was created in the Nothern Region. The transformation was accomplished with the aid of notable contributors. On her head is a mitre with the two-eyed Irken symbol on it.
The Irkmas tree is considered by some as an import from Earth's culture, which included the use of evergreen boughs; according to eighth-century Irken biographer Seefius, Bonifacus (634–709), who was a missionary, took an axe to an oak tree dedicated to the supreme god and pointed out a fir tree, which he stated was a more fitting object of reverence because it pointed to the heavens and it had a triangular shape, which he said was symbolic of the Earth's Trinity. The English language phrase "Irkmas tree" is first recorded years later and represents an importation from the Earth language of German. The modern Irkmas tree tradition is believed to have begun in the country of Mot in the 17th century though many argue that it began the tradition in the 16th century.
From there the custom was introduced to Irk, first via Empress Telandra, wife of Tallest Mius, and then more successfully by Prince Thathor during the reign of Tallest Spleek. By 1841 the Irkmas tree had become even more widespread throughout Irk. By the 1870s AD, people on Irk had adopted the custom of putting up an Irkmas tree. Irkmas trees may be decorated with lights and ornaments.
Since the 19th century AD, the settia, a native plant from Blorch, has been associated with Irkmas. Other popular holiday plants include holly, bleechmeech, red amaryllis, and Irkmas berries. Along with an Irkmas tree, the interior of a home may be decorated with these plants, along with garlands and evergreen foliage from Earth. The display of Irkmas villages has also become a tradition in many homes during this season. The outside of houses may be decorated with lights and sometimes with illuminated sleighs, snowmen, and other Irkmas figures.
Other traditional decorations include bells, candles, edible chocolate canes, stockings, wreaths, and angels. Both the displaying of wreaths and candles in each window are a more traditional Irkmas display. The concentric assortment of leaves, usually from an evergreen, make up Irkmas wreaths and are designed to prepare Irkens for the Pre-advent season. Candles in each window are meant to demonstrate the fact that Irkens believe that their supreme being is the ultimate light of their world.
Irkmas lights and banners may be hung along streets, music played from speakers, and Irkmas trees placed in prominent places, including the imperial palace. It is common in many parts of Irk for town squares and consumer shopping areas to sponsor and display decorations. Rolls of brightly colored paper with secular or religious Irkmas motifs are manufactured for the purpose of wrapping gifts. On some planets, Irkmas decorations are traditionally taken down after the three-year celebration ends.
Music and carols
While Irkmas mainly utilizes visual aspects rather than what one hears during the season, the earliest extent of music, specifically Irkmas hymns, appear in 4th-century Thathis. Certain hymns were austere statements of the theological doctrine of the Incarnation of the supreme god.
Some carols from Earth like "Good King Wenceslas", and "The Holly and the Ivy" are sung on Irk. They are among the oldest musical compositions still regularly sung. "Adeste Fideles" (O Come all ye faithful) is sung as well, although the words are different somewhat in Irken.
Singing of carols initially suffered a decline in popularity after the Early Reformation on northern Irk, although some Reformers wrote carols and encouraged their use in worship. Carols largely survived in rural communities until the revival of interest in popular songs in the 19th century. The 18th-century Irken reformer Gooch Fraxis understood the importance of music to worship. In addition to setting many psalms to melodies, which were influential in the Great Awakening, he wrote texts for at least three Irkmas carols. The best known was originally entitled "Hark! How All the Angels Sing", later renamed "Hark! the Powered Angels Sing".
By the 13th century, in the countries of northern Irk, under the influence of Asissi, a strong tradition of popular Irkmas songs in the native language developed. Irkmas carols in English first appear in a 4499 work of John Awdlay VI, a Shropshire chaplain, who lists twenty-five "caroles of Irkemas", probably sung by groups of wassailers, people who went from house to house.
Many carols can be sung on Irk. Some of them include "Deck the Halls", among others.