The Origins of Holidays

First, I wish to apologize for skipping time between postings. I hope that, in the holiday spirit, you can forgive me and understand that the holidays are a busy time. If you can’t understand that, then I hope you can realize the power of procrastination on a college student visiting home.

Now, as we have passed Christmas and New Years I thought it would be an apt time to discuss holidays. If you are creating a fantasy world, one where every facet has been created and analyzed, you need to look beyond what is important towards your story. Little details, such as clothing, superstitions, farming equipment, or the style of architecture, can help your reader place themselves within your world. Look at it this way: if you are watching an animated movie, or playing a video game, don’t you find yourself analyzing it? Would they have worn those types of clothing? Why is that person making a weird hand gesture? Similarly, your readers will analyze what you create and the details you provide can help them to relax and enjoy.

One such detail that I think is sometimes forgotten is holidays. Even though in daily life we look forward to searching for Easter eggs, giving Christmas presents, eating Thanksgiving turkey and Valentine chocolate, and dressing up as monsters for Halloween, writers tend to consider it a trivial fact when writing.The possibilities that holidays project are easily overlooked.

For instance, during the Revolutionary War, Christmas rolled around and the British decided to take the time to party, since it was a holiday and they figured that the Americans would be taking time off as well. In the midst of the celebrations, the Americans attacked their camp full of drunken soldiers and decimated them. Now, think of what a great twist this would add to your story if you put it in. After all, holidays are well established as times of merriment and relaxation so if you story includes a war you can use this to your advantage.

Even if your story is not a gory fest of violence and war, holidays are still advantageous. Holidays represent traditions and traditions represent centuries-old civilizations and societies and the traditions that have been created over time. They make your world old. If you want to establish that the world you have created is old, put in traditions. Prejudice against a certain type of worker, alien, or magic. Hatred for another country that is so old no one can trace its origins. A holiday celebrating the triumph of a battle or war or the passing of the seasons.

Think about where most holidays originate. Christmas may be the celebration of Christ’s birth, but there is more to its history. The date for Christmas was used as a tool for the conversion of pagans and barbarians by coinciding with one of their holidays. Halloween used to be a time of fear, when all that was wicked joined the world of the living, thus being called All Hallows Eve. Groundhog day celebrates the coming of spring, even as centuries ago the equinox was celebrated.

A lot of holidays are associated with the change of seasons and religion. It’s easy to forget how much religion affects our daily life, even if we ourselves are not religious. So, when creating your holidays it is important to keep this in mind. No holiday is started without a reason and there is always a purpose. A chance to relax after crops are harvested, a happy time full of alcohol and food as the new year rolls in, and a time to drink beer and kiss the Irish are just a few examples. Holidays are a time to look forward to and as you send your protagonist  on his or her quest, time will pass and, even if you don’t use the holiday for anything else, you can have him or her long for the past.

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