November and December is an exciting time of year to me. There are a lot of celebrations in a very short period of time. For teaching, it was the promised land of the school year, followed by the drought of no days off until Easter. There are also so many fun festivities to enjoy. Surely you have two or three at the very least between Halloween and now. If you don’t practice them, no doubt you can name them. Many of the holidays evolved, as well. Winter Solstice is arguably one of the first, if not the first in the season. Christmas stemmed from it so the pagans had a reason to convert in northern Europe to Christianity. Don’t deprive a society of a good party or things get ugly.
In your own world you have your mythologies and legends. You have celebrations and holidays. It becomes very easy to leave these in the background and never utilize them when it’s such a story rich point in time. Festivals reveal a great deal about the culture and characters. For culture, there could be human sacrifice. The Mayans had a ballgame where the winner was sacrificed to the gods. There could be a lot of sex. Thank Saturn for those long and exhausting nights. Perhaps people get drunk and play horrible music, while laughing, singing, and dancing. Create a celebration in your world that would compliment the belief structures and cultural norms you already have in place.
How your characters react also says a lot. An individual who plays very hard at the ballgame believes in the gods and rewards in the afterlife. A character struggling between his wife and the gods may throw the game, desiring to see the birth of his son. During the orgy of Saturn, perhaps a boy has fallen madly in love with one particular girl and has no desire to make love to anyone else. Meanwhile, he catches her being passed from one man to the other, declaring she refuses to ever settle down with a man when such fun is readily at hand. How will he respond? In the drunken celebration, does your character play the washboard like an idiot, or does he scowl and go off in the corner? I picked the route of the joyful idiot. Choose a few characters from your story. Come up with a brief idea of how they react to your festival, along with how they might act with each other at the festival.
Now add some depth to your event. The ballgame was originally entertainment. There was no grand meaning to it, there were no gods watching the game and waiting for their snack. However, a volcano erupted and killed thousands. The shaman said they needed to sacrifice, and a team said the winner of the game should have the honor to feed the gods to save the many. Ever since then, the volcano has been dormant. Obviously it’s working.
Originally the festival of fertility was between man and wife. The goddess was different, along with the religion. When a decadent conqueror saw the ritual, they turned it to their own desires and it became a celebration of unbridled lust. A corporation wanted to figure out how to make a lot of money, so they convinced people to pay in order to watch a musical, drink, eat, and play instruments from the old days. Ultimately, the locals rarely take part in the festival, but the tourists show up in droves. A strange mouse-like creature also appears from time to time. Look at your own cultural celebration. Come up with a history for it, what the original purpose was, how it changed, and why it changed. Remember that history is also written by the victors. Chances are the orgy would be pinned on the “uncivilized” conquered culture and a few generations later no one would be the wiser.
This will give you a few good scenes, something to build up to, and a better understanding of cultures and characters. I hope it helped. If you have other ways you try to incorporate culture into your stories, post it below!