Inspire: Holidays in Fantasy

There are very few of us who actually dislike holidays, and chances are those who are in fact unaffected by modern-day holidays probably aren’t reading this blog. I’d be interested to hear from you if that were the case, however.

Today’s topic is brought to you by Thanksgivvukah.

You know. Hannukah and Thanksgiving.

Regardless, holidays exist for a multitude of reasons. They could be religious observances, historical events, or as we’ve seen in the recent century, completely fabricated for profit.

I’m rather fond of holidays whose meaning change as historical events come to life. I never really liked Columbus much anyway.

But the real fun is inventing one’s own holidays for one’s own writing. In a setting taking place on your own world or perhaps an alternate version of our own, where new gods exist or even old ones forgotten have made a resurgence, there’re plenty of opportunities for holidays. Historical events, such as the landing of legendary conquerors or the invention of magic. Astronomical events can be a lot of fun as well. I’ve even played around with a holiday I simply called “Two Moon’s Day,” which is little more than your run-of-the-mill excuse to drink and feast in celebration of something happening.

Holidays carry a host of other considerations, however, not least of which being calendars, seasons, and how big your world actually is. Seriously, how likely do you think it is that another spinning orb out there, capable of housing life-sustaining conditions for humans (or at least what we recognize as humans in the context of the story/movie/game), also just happens to be the same size, have a single moon, and spin at the same speed?

I feel like many writers do not consider t his, but the very fact that we have seasons is not something universal (literally). Winter occurs because our world (Earth, for those of you paying attention) rotates on an axis, and we tilt on that axis due to a massive impact that happened billions of years ago. Most of this is 2nd Grade science, but still, the presence of shifting seasons is so prevalent that I’d almost venture a guess at one of two things:

1) The conscious choice was made by the author to make things relatable to the reader. “Eh, I’m not gonna change the seasons of this world because that’s too much work.” This’s perfectly acceptable if it is, in fact, planet Earth, but without specific references one is left to assume – or guess – and only if done well is that good writing.

2) Season in a 365 day calendar exist simply because of a lack of imagination. Narnia has winter even though the world is probably the size of, I don’t know, North and South Dakota? But C.S. Lewis gets a pass for that on account of Narnia (and it’s surrounding countries) more or less being a plane, as opposed to a planet. Middle-Earth is not a plane, but is also thoroughly more thought out; J.R.R. Tolkien gets a pass as well, on account of the tremendous cosmology and divine influences that are more or less truth in that world.

Westeros, on the other hand, is unique. As much as I hate to cite Game of Thrones for my examples of things (I often feel it is over-used), George R.R. Martin did something fairly unique among fantasy writers I’ve read. (Key phrase: That I’ve Read. Still reading, still looking; throw me some examples that are exceptions if you know of any!) Anyone familiar with Game of Thrones knows that winter in Westeros can last up to nine years (at least!). Here’s an awesome article about How Seasons Work (Or Don’t Work) in A Song of Ice and Fire , wherein the author’s stated reason is, “It’s magic.” But there’s a lot more; check it out.

Then, of course, there’s simply adopting currently existing holidays and converting them to one’s world. A great example of this would be from Azeroth, popular in Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. Blizzard games are notorious for breaking the fourth wall and adding references to real-world things, so in a place like Azeroth the appearance of Hallow’s End (Halloween), Feast of Winter’s Veil (the equivalent of Azerothien Christmas, though the ambiguity of it is a safe winter holiday that can encompass anything), or the Lunar Festival (or what we call the Chinese New Year). Cleverly done, Blizzard.

So, we’ve got calendars, planetary axial tilts, celestial movements, and characters of history or religion. That’s a lot to consider when inventing holidays, but in the end the more you put into the backstory of your writing, whether or not the readers know it, the more it shows in the culture of your setting.

How about a holiday generator from Chaotic Shiny to really get some ideas?

Happy writing!

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