Woo who – lets have a party! Said every human in every culture since the dawn of time. There are more festivals and things to celebrate than there are days in the year, so the human race is definitely one that likes to kick back and enjoy food, drink, each other or their deity of choice. It is an ideal way to see a culture at it’s most relaxed, or sometimes at its most formal, depending on the occasion. What will a festival say about the world you have created?

Festivals or celebrations often have an agricultural/seasonal basis, when the end of winter, mid summer, New Year, etc are heralded with some relief by a population starved for entertainment, and possibly also food. Imagine the arrival of Spring after a long winter when you were down to eating your boots! The first fresh flowers and green foods would have been a welcome sight, and perhaps also a life saving one. Foods that first appear, or are bountiful in harvest times are often celebrated – look at the massive pumpkin frenzy around Fall in the USA. But holidays around the world commemorate such things as oysters, the first box of cherries, mangoes, wine – you name it, it is probably cherished somewhere.

Often books written by authors reflect something they yearn for, or have missed. Here we see Enid Blyton, Tolkien and CS Lewis writing after terrible wars and food rationing. Their books are filled with delightful midnight feasts, elven bread, hobbit second breakfasts and royal dinners. JK Rowling also follows this fine tradition with many eating scenes and celebrations throughout – until they are searching for horcruxes, when food deprivation and missing Christmas are some of the many trials Harry, Hermione and Ron must face.

Seasonal celebrations are usually linked with celestial change- the longest or shortest day or solstice – Beltane, Samhain and Yule for example. These are often very old celebrations, and have a long history of special foods and rituals. Quite often they have been so entrenched in the culture that we celebrate them today, renamed in more recent religions. To measure the days and mark the time to party, elaborate calendars such as stone circles have been invented. Certainly a celebration would take on a mystical quality with the first rays of sun through a stone portal, and all know it heralds the end of the cold.

So, historical authors can have some fun researching foods, drink and rituals, including as many as they wish. One interesting thing would be the impact of a holiday on a person. Are they home with family and is it all familiar? Or in a foreign land, their stomach rumbling from unaccustomed food, and secretly horrified (or excited) by what they see? How will they react? One of the Man From UNCLE series had a spy chasing and being chased through a masked street festival, with the costumes adding an element of surprise, danger and disguise, forcing the main character to think quickly.

Fantasy authors can also throw themselves into researching pagan festivals and the types of food, activities (fertility rituals anyone?). Will the festival be a welcome relief? A derailment of their quest? A danger as some become drunk and get arrested? Will someone end up married or pregnant? A festival can add a totally random and fun element to a story, spinning it off into a fresh path, while at the same time providing a great deal of depth to the world you have created.

Scifi authors can also invent new celebrations, or rehash old ones. Heinlein makes a great deal of Fat Tuesday, with it becoming Carolita’s day, celebrated throughout the galaxy in “Time Enough for Love”. Take one of the current craze for national day of something and make it your own. What about alien celebrations? A long forgotten story was a first encounter, where the humans thought they were celebrating an alien religious festival, finding out – too late – that they were on the menu. An old theme, even used by CS Lewis in “The Silver Chair” Narnia series.

A more sedate reason for a celebration or commemoration is to mark a military victory or loss, or the end of wars, or the first arrival in a new country. This can be a more solemn, formal occasion where people are more likely to show private grief and loss in public. This could be a good time to fill in some back story that won’t fit in elsewhere.

So, humans like to party, regardless of the time, place or reason. A way to forget for a space the short time we are in this universe, and join hands (or other body parts) with another human while we can. Party on dudes!

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World building: Celebrations
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2 thoughts on “World building: Celebrations

  • November 23, 2018 at 09:39
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    Thank you for an interesting (and for me timely) post. I am approaching a festival in my WIP which is to be held to mark the end of the successful first year of a new human colony on an exoplanet.
    It is to be structured around the Lupercalia festival of Rome, and I’m quite looking forward to creating the details.
    Your very well written post has given me points I should consider. Thank you again.

  • November 23, 2018 at 08:27
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    What a great article! I filed in my Education – fiction folder. I hadn’t considered incorporating holidays as story-telling devices before this. Wait. I take that back! In my second novel, ‘My Undead Mother-in-law’, I use Valentine’s Day as an excuse for the non-zombie portion of the family to have dinner with the zombie-in-laws.

    But that was a pretty minor holiday.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Andy Zach

    PS: Let me know if you want to cross post blog posts with me.

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