Friday, October 14, 2011
I remember many more holidays when I was growing up than those celebrated today. Some were national - Columbus Day, Lincoln's Birthday, Washington's Birthday, Arbor Day, Flag Day. Some were local, such as Founder's Day or Maxwell Street Day (which in small towns in Wisconsin was celebrated by city-wide sidewalk sales. Each town had a different day in August so people in neighboring communities would come and shop) or Octoberfest. Some were religious. I was raised Roman Catholic, so quite a few saints had their holiday celebrated with the entire class attending Mass. May Day to me isn't memories of parades of armies and weapons but of decorating small altars with the first flowers of the season. I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, so St. Patrick's Day was the wearing of the green (and/or orange when I graduated to a public high school) by students of Irish ancestry, followed by St. Joseph's Day two days later and the wearing of the red by students of Italian ancestry.
There were so many holidays that the most valuable book in a library's reference collection was The Book of Holidays (or various versions) just so a teacher could keep track. This was also a useful resource when researching various countries and cultures for Geography and History classes to see what holidays were celebrated by others.
But then the Catholic Church changed the list of saints, dropping many (including the one my grammar school was named for) and the Federal holidays changed to those that could be celebrated over a three day weekend such as merging Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays. Some holidays fell out of popularity - though stores seem to remember them for sales. Holidays that could be celebrated with a card were added, as well as others (such as Read an Ebook Week) that one has to be in the know to even realize they exist. On the plus side, there is now more awareness of other cultural and religious holidays and more mention of them in the media.
Celebrations and holidays can unite a community, whether it be a classroom, a town, or a country. Each can have rituals or customs that either make sense (the planting of trees on Arbor Day) or originated so long ago that no one remembers why they began.
When developing the world for a science fiction or fantasy novel, adding holidays and celebrations helps establish traditions for your society. Do your elves have a spring or an autumn celebration? Do your dragons celebrate hatchings or first flight? Are the birthdays of royalty celebrated by the whole kingdom or only the royal family? Are there fall festivals similar to modern day Renaissance Fairs?
Will the holidays of today be celebrated in the future? Do the people in a space colony celebrate the day the first ship arrived? The day the space station was completed? Do they have the equivalent of Thanksgiving? Are there parades?
What are some of the celebrations in your books or your favorite stories?