Worldbuilding: Creating Holidays

someecards.com - On this day, let's honor only a few of our nation's presidents

Today is President's Day in the US, and it got me thinking about the holidays we celebrate, and how we can use them in our writing.

If you're writing a contemporary book you may want to set it during a holiday to add interest and enhance the story. Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan is a great example of a book that could have been set any time, but the plot, characters, and setting are all greatly enhanced by the authors' decision to have the events unfold during Christmas and New Years.

If you're writing a fantasy or science fiction novel (including dystopian), you may want to create holidays as part of your world building. Holidays can add another dimension to your setting, and make your world feel like it has a real, living history. However, you need to make sure your new holiday isn't just a copy of one of our current holidays with a new name stuck on it. Your readers, whether they are teens or adults, will see right through that.

When creating a holiday, you may want to consider:

-How holidays have changed over the years (in our world many holidays have grown much more commercial, for example).
-How many holidays serve two purposes (often both religious and secular).
-How different cultures celebrate different holidays.
-How different people feel about a holiday- some people may love it, others hate it.
-How people who have been conquered or repressed still find ways to celebrate their holidays.

Here are a few types of popular holidays around the world:

1) Religious - Christmas,Yom Kippur, Diwali
If you're creating a new religion for your world, adding holidays for it is a great way to bring the religion to life. Or if your book is set in a futuristic world you may want to depict how a religion has changed by showing how a holiday is celebrated differently than today.

2) New Year - New Year's Eve, Chinese New Year, Rosh Hashanah
Many different cultures celebrate the "new year" at different times of the year, and they all do it differently. How would your world celebrate the new year? Do different cultures or religions celebrate it at different times?

3) Commemorative - President's Day, 4th of July, Guy Fawkes Day
Many national holidays commemorate a historical event, such as the end of a war or a famous historical figure's birthday. These kind of holidays can be added to show an important historical event in your world and how it impacts the people in the present.

4) Days of Honor - Veteran's Day, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day
I call these holidays days of honor because they show an appreciation for something (veterans, loved ones, mothers, etc). What would the people in your world honor and be thankful for? Veterans? The harvest? Their children?

5) Seasonal Holidays - Easter, Thanksgiving, Oktoberfest
Thanksgiving is not just a day of thanks, but also a harvest festival. Easter is not just a religious holiday, but also a celebration of spring. Many countries have other types of holidays celebrating the changing of the seasons. If your book is set on a different type of planet (for example, one with two moons that align once a year) you can have a lot of fun with this.


For an example of a fictional holiday done well, look at the Reaping day in the first chapter of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Even before Prim's name is chosen, Katniss describes the dread the town feels for this enforced holiday and gives us a little background on the history of it. She also shows how people in the town celebrate it - wearing nicer clothes, eating better food, and for a few families, mourning their loved ones as they are sent off to the games.

For more information on creating holidays in science fiction and fantasy, I suggest listening to this Writing Excuses podcast (or watching the video) "Life Day!"

Whether you're writing a contemporary novel with existing holidays, or a science fiction/fantasy novel with new ones, setting the book or an important scene during a holiday can add a lot of depth to your world.

Is your book set during any holidays? Have you created any holidays as part of your worldbuilding?