A glass ornament I made this year in a glass blowing class. Photo by Kate Ota 2019
In world building, sometimes holidays fall by the wayside. Or they mimic well known holidays in our world. But if you’re writing a secondary world fantasy, they’re not going to celebrate the same holidays, or in the same manner, as holidays in our world. Here are four tips for how to create a holiday!
Rather than a deity or deities, focus on history
Yes, holidays can be religious. But they usually focus on one historical event, rather than celebrating a God or Gods in general. Think of Christmas, it celebrates the birth of Jesus, not his entire life. Hanukkah celebrates when oil for one day lasted eight days. Specific events, especially events determined to be miracles, are a strong basis for a holiday. It gives you something concrete to build the details around. Specifics also make your holiday more unique and memorable, rather than a generic harvest festival, winter festival, etc.
The day should match the culture
If you build a culture that is very buttoned up and conservative, the holiday you create should include traditions that are similarly conservative. A belly dancer probably wouldn’t turn up at that world’s event. A culture that loves music would probably have lots of music at their holiday. A day celebrated in the cold north would probably not include tropical fruits. Holidays also reflect other values of the culture you’ve created, for example, if they value education, then perhaps trivia is a traditional pastime. Use this logic and the heavy lifting you’ve already done on world building to have a holiday that fits your culture.
Choose a color scheme
For most holidays, you can picture a color scheme. Whether it’s just one (Green for St. Patrick’s Day) or many (like the colors used in Holi). This can help with deciding how to describe it to your reader and picturing it yourself. Try to think out of the box, if you choose any popular color combination, your readers will automatically connect your holiday to something else. And not just red and green for Christmas, but think of red and yellow being linked to McDonald’s. Beyond that, consider what colors are available in your fantasy world (if it’s historical), and what would be rare, but used for special occasions. Colors often have meaning, so if you’ve built your world with color symbolism elsewhere, don’t forget to include your pre-built symbolism for holidays too.
Create a variety of traditions
Not everyone celebrates every holiday the same. Sure, many people watch fireworks on July 4th, but not everyone barbecues. Mostly because not everyone has access to a barbecue or grill. So be sure to include variety in your holiday. If gifts are exchanged, people may open the gifts at different times of day. If a major meal is involved, that may also be eaten at different times. Some families may gather together from long distances, some may prefer to spend the holiday with friends. Maybe a religious service is attended, but is it at midnight or dawn? Or a reasonable hour? And don’t forget, there may be traditions performed by the very devout that the more agnostic people don’t perform. No culture is a monolith, so be sure to include variations of the traditions of your holiday to add a sense of realism.
Were these tips helpful in creating a holiday for your secondary world fantasy? Any ideas to add? Let’s discuss in the comments!