Holidays and World Building
It's that time of year. The holidays are in full swing, snow is abounding (if you're in the right place) and consumers are swarming the malls to prove capitalism is alive and well. Ah... the holidays.
But all these holidays have origins and, being something of a Christmas nut, I can tell you it's nothing like it once was. But I'm not here today to tell you about the paganistic origins of Christmas or how certain Christian sects banned its celebration for generations. No. I just want to bring those up to show that holidays change and evolve to fit the world that's celebrating them.
If you're a fantasy or sci-fi writer, you better believe holidays will eventually work their way into your works. If you take time to contemplate them, let them grow naturally in your mind, you can end up with something that enriches your world and makes it that much more alive. If not... you may end up with the Star Wars Holiday Special.
In all seriousness, don't watch that. It's hot garbage and it hurts your brain and, really, I don't want that on my conscious. But understand that just taking an existing holiday and renaming it isn't going to do anything for your story, anymore than taking an existing culture and renaming it. In the same way that "Space Romans" doesn't work because Rome evolved in a certain way under certain conditions, "Space Christmas" doesn't work because Christmas traditions evolved over a long time and under very strange circumstances. Want another example from the Christmas nut? The twelve days of Christmas START one Christmas and run until Epiphany in January. It's not a countdown. Christmas used to be a twelve day feast.
So how do you make your holiday? Well, look at the holidays around the world and figure out what connects them, not only to each other thematically, but to their own cultures. Does it celebrate a victory or the end of a war? Maybe there was a miracle that's being observed? Perhaps it's the celebration of the harvest or maybe the beginning of spring. Remember, the older the holiday is (or the more archaic your setting is) the most it should likely revolve around observable phenomena. When the first snow melts and the first flowers bloom. Boom! That's a marker for a holiday. When the constellations change and a certain star is in the right part of the sky. Boom! Holiday! When the entire village gathers together to harvest the crops! Boom! Holiday!
As for traditions, those you can be even more flexible with. Perhaps your village harvests a lot of pumpkins because that's what was easy to grow when the village first started. So, despite other crops being part of the harvest, pumpkins might have a special place. Contests to see who can grow the biggest! Decorative contests. Foods based around pumpkin as an ingredient. What's if it's not food? Maybe a battle? Well, how hated was the enemy commander? Maybe he's evolved into a monster that scares children on that day. Maybe he lost the battle because of thick thorns that blocked his way, so now you chase the monster out of the village with thorns? Go nuts!
The point is, like all my world building advice, is to use deductive world building. Sure, this happens, but why? What would make logical sense to lead to what you're doing? Or, if you want to go the other route, what would the thing being celebrated eventually lead to? How far can you stretch the original concept before it's unrecognizable? I mean, practically no one in the US knows about the Krampus, Santa's helper that kidnapped children and beat them with reeds. Maybe someone in your culture's history decided to forcefully introduce a new tradition like that? The options are limitless, so go wild. Just remember: build your own holiday or you'll end up with a weird, pointless "Space Christmas." George.
Leave a Reply.
Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.