On a day on which a Klingon Bird of Prey being piloted by a drunk helmsman has come within a scant few metres of taking off a docking pylon, Chief O’Brien has hit the computer core with a spanner while shouting something loud and colourful about its parentage and fate in the next world, and Odo’s criminal activities report has run to four pages, First Minister Shakaar declares that there is shortly to be a Bajoran public holiday for the Festival of Alignment.
Sisko sticks his head into Ops for a moment and says, “Major Kira, could I have a word, please.”
Kira appears with alacrity, her heels coming together. “Yes, Captain.”
"At ease, Major." Sisko rests his elbows on his desk and steeples his fingers. "So what is it about, then, the Festival of Alignment?"
Kira looks confused. “Sir?”
"The Festival of Alignment," Sisko says, impatiently. "Is it a fast, a party, a military commemoration, or what?"
"Sir," Kira says, "about that" - and then the computer says, "Incoming transmission."
"Kira, stay here for this," Sisko says. "First Minister, what can I do for you?"
"It's about the Festival of Alignment." Shakaar seems as ill-at-ease as Kira, which bothers Sisko; in his opinion, the man has become an astute political operative, with practice. "There’s something you need to understand. Is Nerys there with you?"
"You see, sir," Kira says earnestly, "the Festival of Alignment is only held every sixty-four standard years. From what I’ve read, the idea is that there should be one during every typical Bajoran lifetime, but there wasn’t one during the occupation. So…"
"So no one alive has ever been to one, and no one knows what to do?" Sisko takes a deep breath. "Don’t the vedeks - the Kai…"
"It was typically a festival in the oral tradition," Kira says, still earnestly. "There isn’t a great deal in the scriptures about it. Just a calculation of the dates, and an exhortation to keep it as our own."
"Captain Sisko," Shakaar cuts in from the viewscreen, "frankly, I’m not a particularly religious man. But I do think a seven-month period with no public holidays in a time of war is not in the best interests of provisional government public policy. And I thought, as Emissary of the Prophets, you could…"
"Oh, no," Sisko begins, "I don’t think that" - and breaks off, as even through the closed office door they can hear Miles O’Brien invoking Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the holy angels at the computer core. "A public holiday?"
"Yes, sir," Kira says.
"Well," Sisko says, "let’s see."
The first requirement, when one is celebrating the Bajoran Festival of Alignment, is good food. “I would specify further,” Sisko says, “but not many Bajorans have ever been to New Orleans.”
"How about the food of your home and your people," Kira suggests, so he makes a jambalaya with some of the spices that have made the long journey from Earth, and Jadzia’s a terrible cook, so he sets her to chopping, and Kira uses some of the leftover vegetables for hasperat. Julian and Miles make soda bread according to the Chief’s mother’s recipe, and Odo upsets them by asking if it’s supposed to be sunk in the middle but it smells wonderful. And Keiko makes a fragrant, multicoloured salad, with edible flowers and delicate flavours, that none of them have ever seen before; when they sit down to their meal, she explains that all the component elements are from the hydroponics bays and arboretum: that this, as close as anything can be, is the food of Deep Space Nine. Sisko toasts her with a glass of wine made and acquired at cost from the vineyards of Ferenginar, and they all dig in.
The next requirement is gifts. “Small ones,” Sisko says, thinking about families in the poor and rural provinces. “A token item, perhaps. There’s an Earth idiom that it’s the thought that counts.”
Kira says that she thinks gifts really are a part of the original Festival of Alignment - at least, she thinks her grandmother, her mother’s mother, might have told her about it when she was a little girl. “But you gave the gift to someone who had taught you in some way,” she adds, after some more thought. “It was a gift in respect of… guidance. Someone who had shaped you.”
Sisko stops abruptly and thinks about that in turn. “And for you, that would mean…” he says, tentatively.
"I guess," Kira says, laughing a little, "Shakaar would count. He was older than me, in the resistance. He helped show me the ropes."
She does send him something, although Sisko doesn’t ask too many questions about the neatly-wrapped parcel that ends up on the mail transport. When he broaches the idea tentatively to the rest of his staff, he finds they take to it with careful, contemplative interest. Julian sends a thinking-of-you message to a mentor of his from medical school; Rom and Keiko both choose to send something to their mothers; Jake presses a data chip into his father’s hand with the all-consuming embarrassment of youth, and Sisko can’t wait to see what his son has written for him. At dinner, he can hear Chief O’Brien telling his wife, sombrely, “If the Cardassians hadn’t - if I hadn’t been at Setlik III, when they attacked… well, I guess I should send something to Gul Dukat.”
Sisko and Dax are the only people to exchange gifts.
"Of course," Shakaar says, over the comm, "family. We have to foreground family as a part of the festival. People need the time off so they can go and see their families. That’s the point."
"I took that as read, First Minister," Sisko says, and Shakaar laughs and says,
"Yes, of course."
Sisko cuts the link with a slight smile and surveys his domain. His senior staff have covered his quarters in wrapping paper and paper hats, but Sisko doesn’t mind. Kasidy is helping Molly get the last of the jambalaya out of the pot; Julian and Chief O’Brien are providing a synthale-aided, impromptu explanation of twentieth-century British history seen through the lens of certain Cardassian theories of dialectics; Rom is showing Dax the best way to rewire a sensor board with a spoon. Jake’s laughing at something Jadzia has just said to him. “Hey, Dad,” he calls, “great party.”
"You’re welcome," he says, and Benjamin Sisko came to Deep Space Nine because of the battle of Wolf 359: he understands that the last thing to happen this evening must concern the songs of war - whether Worf’s Klingon opera, or the old hymn, The Minstrel Boy; or just, the call to battle stations, and the staff running down to Ops in their bare feet and determination. But he’s grateful for their songs.
Kira comes up to him before the evening is quite over and says, “The Bajoran provisional government is planning to officially redesignate the Bajoran Festival of Alignment as an annual holiday. It’s on the news nets. Well done, Emissary.”
She only calls him that when they’re not on duty. He smiles at her and insists she take leftovers, and in the end Julian and Chief O’Brien win out and walk along the habitat ring singing, wistful and soft, The minstrel boy to the war is gone, in the ranks of death you’ll find him. The last thing they hear before the quiet of the night is, “One faithful harp shall praise thee!”, and Odo telling them all to shut up, and the sound of distant laughter.