Merry Christmas, everybody, and happy whatever-you-celebrate-at-this-time-of-year!
My Dad and youngest sister are here for Christmas this weekend, so I’m doing the big Christmas dinner thing, with full tree (and happy cats eyeing ornaments whenever they aren’t on someone’s lap getting petted). Which means this will be a little short.
And now that we have that clear…what are your characters celebrating?
It’s oddly rare for fantasy and SF to include holidays (except, of course, for the giant victory feast at the end of the story, which always seems to me like Thanksgiving with medal-awarding, at best, and at worst like the sort of retirement dinner where everyone eats rubber chicken and the honoree gets a Certificate of Appreciation in lieu of anything that might actually be useful or worth something). It’s even rarer for fantasy/SF to include multiple holidays for different cultures or belief systems. Surely the insectoid aliens from Betelgeuse don’t celebrate Hanukah or Christmas or Diwali? And surely both the elves and the dwarves have their own holidays, which are distinct from those celebrated by humans? (Not to mention the fact that there really ought to be multiple different cultures and traditions for each race – see Hanukah, Diwali, Christmas, etc.)
But it often seems that the only holidays in fantasy are the solstices and equinoxes and maybe a harvest feast, which are celebrated by everybody in the story, whether they’re humans, elves, dwarves, or dragons. The elves don’t celebrate the Faerie Queen’s Jubilee; nobody has an equivalent of President’s Day or a bank holiday. Heck, fantasy and SF children don’t even seem to get off school for snow days (though I suppose that if children are home-school or apprenticed, that wouldn’t be a possibility).
And I’ve almost never seen (or written; I admit it) the sort of massive feast-and-gift-exchange events that seem to be common across cultures in Real Life (birthdays, potlatch ceremonies, Christmas, etc.) except, occasionally, in stories like the Harry Potter books that use a setting close enough to reality to use the same real-life holidays.
I’ll also point out that while food is often a big part of holiday traditions, different real-life holidays frequently have different foods associated specifically with them. Chocolate eggs are not commonly associated with Valentine’s Day, nor heart-shaped pink-frosted cakes with Christmas.
Holidays aren’t going to fit into every story, but they’re both a fascinating aspect of worldbuilding and a potential source of much character conflict and/or background revelation (if they do fit the story), which makes them well worth considering for at least a few seconds. So in between whatever happy holidaying you are doing this month, think about what your characters celebrate and why, and what differences there may be, both from character to character and from holiday to holiday.