First of all, let me wish everyone a wonderful New Year. Stay safe, and may 2012 bless you with much happiness and prosperity.
The end of the year always gets me thinking about holidays. It starts with Halloween, which more initiates thoughts of all the stuff I need to do in preparation for the rest of the year. Thanksgiving comes around, and before I know it, Christmas and New Year are right around the corner. I’m left a little dazed and amazed that yet another year has gone by and I can never take it back. It’s a time of excitement, stress, and hope that next year will be rich with goodness.
Holidays in fantasy and science fiction are perhaps less common than they ought to be considering how prevalent they are in cultures around the world. When they come up, usually they denote significance for a character or plot point. For example, Rand, Perrin, and Mat will never forget the Winternight on which they met Moraine and their lives changed forever in Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World.
Yet it seems to me that holidays ought to show up more in fiction. They are as much an essential part of world creation as dress, cuisine, and weather patterns. But how do you go about creating them?
Whether you take real holidays and adapt them or invent your own, here are a few suggestions.
1. Find the significance and origin of the holiday. The Fourth of July signifies the American declaration of freedom. Christians alone originally observed Christmas as the celebration of Christ’s birth, but today the holiday has taken on many secular elements and is celebrated as a time of giving even among some who don’t share the religious beliefs. So what initially inspired the holiday, and how has it altered over the years? What does it signify now?
2. Think about the central elements of the holiday, the things that make a character in your world think of it. The Fourth of July is associated with fireworks, cookouts, and patriotic songs. Christmas is red and green, snow, evergreen trees, Santa Claus, gingerbread, and candy canes. Special foods, garments, decorations, and activities surround most holidays; though these will vary from region to region. What binding elements set the tone for your holiday?
3. Think of traditions. This ties into the previous elements, but it’s a little more specific. My brother and I used to open the gifts we’d gotten for each other Christmas Eve, our church always lights candles and sings Silent Night then turns the lights back on and sings Joy to the World at the end of the Christmas Eve service. A pen pal of mine from Australia goes to the beach with her family every year and eats shrimp for Christmas. Traditions differ from one part of the world to another, from one social group to another, and among families. What traditions does your world have? What traditions do your characters keep or remember from years past?
4. And finally, when does the holiday fall in your world’s year? This will, of course, have some effect on all other elements of the holiday. Thanksgiving would not have pumpkin pie if it came in April instead of November.
What other things do you consider when inventing holidays for fictional worlds?
Once more, have a happy New Year!