You may be wondering why we’re talking about fictional holidays before any of the major ones, like Christmas and Halloween, and the answer is because recently we celebrated a holiday that might as well be made up, Labor Day. But we’re not complaining, we still get a day off of school and work. But it’s also a pretty good excuse on writing fictional holidays. Now, enough build up, lets get into the article.
Using Holidays to Show Values and Beliefs
Let’s ask real quick what holidays are in real life. Holidays are representations of our morals and beliefs, like charity, thankfulness, and FRICK YEAH, AMERICA! But of course these morals and beliefs have been added over time, and Halloween is probably the best example of this. Halloween used to be a time of year when people thought ghosts, demons, and monsters would walk the Earth. And so they dressed up in disguise, and used carved turnips to scare them away. There were no Elsa’s wondering around with dinosaurs asking for candy back then, the meaning of the holiday has changed as what we know as true has changed. And by creating a difference in beliefs over the years of your fictional holiday you can show how the culture has changed and shifted, where they put their values and beliefs. And it’s also a really fun dive into the history of your world, that is if you enjoy world building, if not then it will be a bit of a longer process.
Creating Holidays for Different Cultures
Different parts of the world also celebrate different holidays, like how America has a Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and Mexico has Cinco de Mayo, these holidays are separated in two different countries, because those countries were the most affected by that one thing. America was hardly changed by the events that created Cinco de Mayo, and M.L.K Jr. Day didn’t really affect Mexico. And most holidays don’t spread around the world, except for technically New Years, but even then we have the Chinese New Years. So developing different holidays for different cultures, countries, and peoples is a good move when building an entire world up. But you would also have to understand the culture and what events or people may have influenced these people the most.
Showing How Advanced a Society is
You can also show how advanced a society is through the holidays. If your culture is still celebrating harvests and agriculture it could show either a culture that has developed into a technological future that somehow involves agriculture, or, as it more often shows, a society that is still developing beliefs that are beyond the likes of food. Like in ancient Egypt, where they had so much food that the farmers were the lowest class, where in a lot of other cultures the farmers were revered for bringing in sustenance.
And to show a more futuristic setting you could show distance between the people of that world and their understanding of why we celebrate holidays. They may have just gotten into a rhythm that was set by those before that they just haven’t moved on from, but they have forgotten about it’s original purpose. Or maybe they look back on old holidays and see them as a barbaric and ancient practice that society has let go. Or maybe like we mentioned previously you could show a twisting of old holidays into new morals.
Customs and Practices
Now we get into the fun part of making a holiday, the customs. And by customs we mean the things that take place on the holiday, like on Halloween you dress up, and on Christmas you give presents. And the reason this part of the process is so fun is because of how creative you can be in the practices. You can have people stick single pieces of confetti on sticks and then go out and throw them straight into a pit of rubber chickens. However there are some limitations, such as the symbolism behind the practices. And these symbols have to relate back to where the holiday originated. Like let’s say the rubber chickens represents an army, and your confetti sticks represent spears, so you could create a holiday based around some kind of battle. You can be as creative as you want, but make sure it makes sense in the context of the holiday.
Why do We Need Holidays?
We bring up the question of why do we need holidays, because it could be argued that they are a want and not a necessity, but we believe otherwise. We think that people need something to latch onto as markers for time passing, because otherwise there is very little to break up the monotony of the day to day, other than a change in temperature of course.
But we also think people need excuses to break off of the aforementioned monotony, certain events, like say a holiday. Where partying seems to increase, and time spent with the people you love also goes up.
There is also the aspect of getting a break, which science has found is essential for the human mind. If the brain is just constantly working it’ll end up in a state of burn out, which is no bueno. So holidays have also prepared another excuse to not have to work or do anything that you don’t want to. It keeps you holding on through school as well, like “Only 5 more days of class till Summer break, and I’m free,” it’s almost essential to keep people trudging forward.
And finally there’s a since of unity in holidays, like how you can feel connected to people by the holidays they celebrate. And how lots of families come together for holidays. There are even holidays used to unite a whole country, like the 4th of July in America. And unity is a very strong tool that can be both used for good and bad in a story.
Using Holidays for World Building and Characterization
But one question that still lingers is, why does writing a holiday matter. Because you might see it as just something that doesn’t contribute to the plot at all, it’s just a minor side detail. Which to be fair it can be that a lot of the time, but we see the holiday as more of a tool for character development and world building without going through the obvious issues of an info dump
Because like we’ve been saying, holidays are great for showing off a culture’s beliefs and values, and showing these beliefs through the guise of a holiday can be a really fun and interesting way to catch the eye of a reader.
And as for characterization, you can show how characters feel about the culture they currently reside in, and this can come in useful for stories that include the dystopian society elements. You can show how a character is brain washed into the culture and needs to be woken up somehow, or how aware they are, creating a conflict between society and character. And even without the sinister tones of a dystopian society it can show what your character values by what holidays they celebrate. Like lets say you have a hero who believes that some prominent figure who has a holiday made after them is a bad person, it wouldn’t make sense for them to enjoy this holiday. And if you’ve displayed what this prominent figure believes than you have also set up what your hero believes.
So really holidays are really useful for the smaller details that create a larger whole, but you can also increase the re-readability of your book by doing stuff like this, because a reader will spot these things a second time around and be amazed at the small intricacies you were able to craft.
Holidays as a Plot Device
Using holidays as a plot device can also be very useful. The holiday plot device is used a lot like this: We need to get something/someone. Well that thing/person will be out on [insert holiday here]. Okay I guess we have until then to plan how to get that thing/person. Of course it’s a little bit more detailed in actual writing, and you should try to find different ways of writing this device that isn’t so formulaic, but it’s still very useful to put into place a timeline and event, that you can use for the whole world building and characterization stuff and blah, blah, blah… we already droned about that stuff.
One thing to take note of is that you shouldn’t use this trick more than once, because otherwise the story will start to become repetitive. You need to find other ways of placing down events to accomplish a task. And if your original task failed you would want to take into consideration the consequences, such as if your team didn’t manage to steal a jewel the first time, then the second time it would be brought out it would probably be more protected, or maybe it wouldn’t even be brought out. It’s really up to you, but consequences for failure do have to be put in place.
So let’s do a quick overview of what you have to take into consideration when creating fictional holidays. Holidays should represent some kind of event or person in the history of your people. It should also represent the culture’s values and beliefs in some way. And by setting up at least the basics of history and culture before hand you are able to effectively create holidays. And after that you can set up the intricacies of the holiday that allow you to see it’s significance in the culture. After you’ve created the holiday your free to use it as you please, whether it be a plot device, something for world building, or maybe something to help characterize someone. Whatever you do with it we hope you at least learned something from this article. We’ll see you later, and have a nice time of existence.
Written by All The Writing HQ