One of the things I love about world-building is the chance to create entirely new holidays. I personally believe that you can never have enough holidays, so the chance to invent a few of my own is really too much to resist.
As with any world-building, holidays need to fit into the belief structure of the place and people you’ve created. I’ve found that it helps a lot to read about holidays, feasts, and celebrations world-wide and throughout history in order to get a feel for the kinds of things that people commemorate with a special time set apart.
If you’re writing a militaristic culture, it’s likely that they will commemorate great battles, both wins and losses. The losses are likely to be solemn occasions, while the victory remembrances may include feasting, storytelling, gift-giving, dances and music. It may be a time when mayhem is permitted and even tacitly encouraged. Or it could be the time when young warriors are presented for initiation.
In an agricultural culture, holidays are likely to follow the seasonal cycle of planting and harvest. There will be times when people are too busy to celebrate, and other times when it’s possible to take a day to enjoy the harvest. Foods will be what are seasonally available. Spring will focus on new life, and may be the time for handfastings. Fall is a time for counting stock and preparing for the cold dark winter.
Holidays play a big role in my Chronicles of the Necromancer series. Not only do they provide a window into the cultures of the different kingdoms in how they are celebrated, but the characters’ attitudes toward the holidays also provide an insight into who they are and what they have experienced. In my most recent novel, Ice Forged, even exiles in a harsh arctic colony find a way to make a celebration out of the beginning and end of the “white nights”.
Holidays are also a great way to provide a view of the economy of your fictional world. Are special goods required for a celebration? How far in debt will people go to acquire them? What trade is necessary to supply them? Can they be obtained illegally? How do celebrations differ between the rich and the poor? Slave and free? People of different races or kingdoms?
Make sure to study folklore and world customs to avoid just copying the holidays you might be most familiar with. Throughout history, people have found a rich variety of ways to honor their deities, so you’ve got a lot of inspiration to pull from beyond our modern culture.
Holidays are a lot of fun to write. Invent a good one, and you may be able to make it an annual celebration with your readers. Adding holidays to your writing creates a whole new layer of believability and texture to your world. Try it and see!
Reign of Ash, book two in the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga launches in April, 2014 from Orbit Books. My new urban fantasy, Deadly Curiosities, comes out in July, 2014 from Solaris Books. I bring out two series of ebook short stories with a new story every month for just .99 on Kindle, Kobo and Nook—check out the Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures or the Deadly Curiosities Adventures.