On the Invention of Fantasy Holidays

Christian Fantasy Writing

As I discussed Monday, most likely your story will dictate the degree to which you develop holidays for your world. Yet once you reach the point where you must create some festivities for your fantasy lands, it’s worth considering the source of the various holidays celebrated in our world, in order to infuse these fictitious events with a sense of realism. Here are a few:

  1. Religious beliefs. The word holiday springs from the Old English haligdæg meaning “holy day or Sabbath.” When considering holidays for your fantasy world, it’s important to remember that many of the holidays we recognize spring from religious practices–not only the ones we observe now, like Christmas or Easter, but more antiquated celebrations like Michaelmas. Much can be told of the nature of a religion through the holidays they celebrate, so this can be useful for revealing the underlying belief systems of your world as well as providing a cause for celebration.
  2. Significant events and people. For countless years, cultures have celebrated important events in their history or noteworthy people by holding holidays in their honor. In the United States, Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Day would be a good examples, but these sorts of remembrances have occurred through much of history.
  3. Changes in the natural world. Seasonal changes and milestones, solar and lunar cycles, and similar events have sparked feasts and celebrations for thousands of years.  The Chinese Mid-Autumn festival, observed close to the autumnal equinox has a host of traditions accompanying it including matchmaking, the lighting of lanterns, the consumption of traditional foods, and so forth. Then of course, we have the celebration of Midsummer’s eve, which coincided with the summer solstice, or the medieval feast of Lammas, which celebrated the wheat harvest. This is a perfect opportunity to highlight some of the unique ways your world functions and reveal tidbits about seasons, calendars, and so forth.
  4. Meaningful relationships. These holidays celebrate significant relationships in our lives. Though it didn’t originate as such, in the Middle Ages, St. Valentine’s Day became a celebration of romantic love and relationships. And of course we now celebrate Father’s Day and Mother’s Day to honor our parents. For a fantasy world, celebrations sparked by relational bonds may give insight on what relationships are viewed as important–and even into family ties and structures.

Have you drawn from any of these sources when creating holidays for your fantasy world? Do you have any helpful tips to share?

Comments

  • Kessie
    December 21, 2011 - 8:34 pm · Reply

    I’m wracking my brain to think of an example of fantasy holidays. I know I’ve read some, but nothing comes to mind.

    The most recent example I can think of is from that Disney movie Tangled, if I can use a cartoon as an example. On the Princess’s birthday every year, the whole kingdom has a day of partying, then at dark they light off a jillion paper lanterns with candles in them, those kind that fly. I thought that was a really cool idea for a holiday.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      January 3, 2012 - 1:30 pm · Reply

      Tangled definitely falls into the fantasy category, and the princess’s birthday is a great example of a significant celebration. It’s closely tied to the entire storyline, as it shows the way the king and queen long for the return of their daughter and serves as a catalyst for Rapunzel’s escape from the tower. Not to mention it provides a visually compelling scene.

      I’d love to see a similar paper lantern display in the real world, as there’s something particularly lovely about all those lights gleaming over the water. 🙂

  • Maria Tatham
    December 28, 2011 - 7:09 pm · Reply

    Sarah,

    This post is intriguing. By inventing feasts and festivals for a fantasy world, we can definitely give readers a better sense of the unique little world they’re visiting, and what is important to its people. Your example of the Chinese Mid-Autumn festival offered me further insight into that culture, and so fantasy festivals would offer the same kind of insight. A fantasy world will feel more real by being more clearly defined.

    Thank you!

    • Sarah Sawyer
      January 3, 2012 - 1:33 pm · Reply

      The Chinese Mid-Autumn festival intrigued me also, Maria. I think when we’re considering fantasy worlds, we benefit from looking at a broad spectrum of cultures, not just the Western civilizations we’re most familiar with. Of course, Western civilization in the medieval and renaissance eras had some pretty unique holidays and traditions too. By looking at a variety of real-world celebrations, we can find inspiration (at least I do).

      • Maria Tatham
        January 3, 2012 - 8:32 pm · Reply

        You’re right that we benefit from looking at a broad spectrum of cultures. A favorite area of the world for me is Eastern Europe, Russia, etc. Some of the same things celebrated differently.

  • Sienna North
    January 2, 2012 - 1:22 pm · Reply

    This is a very interesting and helpful post, Sarah. The four major “categories” into which holidays fall seem quite apt, both for real-life holidays and fantasy ones. I’ve read several fantasy books where certain holidays (the new year being an especially memorable one) served important plot movements. Also, the book Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale, has several holidays and holiday traditions that I found helpful when considering how to structure holidays.

    In my own writing…well, I must confess I haven’t given too much thought to holidays. One that will be significant in the future, however, is a memorial day of a war fought two centuries ago between the two races that inhabit my world. I think I’ll write it such that the people are celebrating and thus distracted, which will prove an excellent time to launch a surprise attack.

    • Sarah Sawyer
      January 3, 2012 - 1:34 pm · Reply

      I’m glad you found it beneficial, Sienna! I haven’t had the need to develop any complex holiday events yet either, but I know sooner or later a story will require it.

      Your memorial day celebration offers insight into your story world as well as something pivotal to the plot, which I think is a perfect example of what we’ve been discussing. It sounds like a winner to me. 🙂

  • TheQuietPen
    January 4, 2012 - 8:54 pm · Reply

    Very nicely done! I’ve done work and studies in cross-cultural environments, and I really enjoyed the different holidays. It’s a good thing to keep in mind.

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