Well, Paul and I had the same idea for a holiday post. One of the things that is often overlooked in speculative fiction is holidays (food is another thing that is often overlooked. From reading many fantasy novels it would seem that meals are only for special occasions). So, Paul had a great post on Tuesday on why to include holidays in your fiction and some great ideas about how to use them. Perhaps your main character loves holidays and will put aside his important quest to observe them. Perhaps she doesn’t see much point in celebrating and would rather just ignore the entire thing. Personally, I tend to be something of a scrooge around Christmas time, so maybe your character could be a scrooge as well. However, if you want to invent some holidays for your world, they have to come from somewhere. So, where do your holidays come from? Here are a few ideas:
1) Steal them: The world has a lot of holidays. Just the December season sees the celebration of Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Malkh, Yule, Saturnalia, Festivus, Dongzi, etc. There are dozens of holidays that you can steal outright and insert into your world. Generally, if you are going to go this route, you should have a specific reason for stealing the holiday. Consider Terry Pratchett’s ‘Hogswatch’, which is essentially Christmas with Santa cast as a humanoid pig. Pratchett’s Discworld novels involve some fairly heavy satire on pretty much everything in modern culture, holiday’s included. So, he does have a good, clear reason for inserting Christmas into his world. C.S. Lewis’ use of Santa Clause in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe has, however, always struck me as odd. Apparently, Santa is a multi-dimensional Christmas fairy capable of tracking down human children in any world? I’m wondering why Aslan doesn’t get presents as well. Was he not a good lion? I have no doubt that many of you are Lewis fans, but you have to admit that this was… oddly whimsical at best.
2) Invent them: The opposite of stealing holidays wholesale is to invent entirely new holidays entirely for your world. This is difficult. As I mentioned above, there are a lot of holidays in the world. Trying to invent something new is likely to either wind up with something either utterly ridiculous or something eerily similar to an existing holiday. So, you can invent you’re own holidays, but it generally takes a lot of work and a fair amount of rewriting.
3) Mix and Mingle: Similar to stealing a holiday, the mix and mingle approach takes aspects of several holidays and blends them. Perhaps your world has a winter holiday that involves putting on costumes and exchanging gifts with the dead to celebrate their momentary return to the world. Or, perhaps your world has a messianic religion that celebrates the resurrection of their messiah with huge, drunken parties and animal sacrifices. In general, you want to be careful with this technique though. Mixing and Mingling can be a great idea, but if you mix Ramadan, Easter, and Saturnalia you’re likely to make a lot of people mad. So, if you choose to mix and mingle, keep your audience in mind and choose holidays that they probably won’t have heard of.
4) Mishmash: Mishmash is another form of mix and mingle, but it adds an aspect of invention. You want to take aspects from multiple different holidays and blend them together with some invented elements of your own. For instance, one of the holiday’s in Kalagrosh involves a late year festival during which the sorcerer rulers of the nation give yearly sacrifices to the demon’s from whom they derive power, all while the people celebrate. These sacrifices aren’t necessarily human or animal sacrifices, but instead are a gift that is particularly important to the sorcerer. For instance, one sorcerer may sacrifice his ability to love, and so he may only feel love for those around him one day a year. Another might sacrifice one of his sense, another may take in a new pet every year, fall deeply in love with that pet, and then slaughter it as his sacrifice. This sacrifice can be almost anything really, and is dependent upon what the sorcerer requests of the demon, and what the demon desires.
So, each of these tools can be a very effective way of creating a holiday, and each can add a new and interesting element to your world. Have fun thinking up celebrations!