With the festive season underway, I’ve decided to write a post about religious holidays in fantasy and what place they have in your world and novel.
If you’re building a world from scratch, it only makes sense to make up some kind of holiday period. Holidays or periods of celebration have been pretty much ingrained in human culture for generations.
While there is a lot of variety, religious holidays tend to have a few things in common:
- Family time
- Food and drink
- Religious connection/religious service
- Celebrating gratitude or thankfulness
Of course, with a fantasy world of your own making, there’s no reason why your holidays should be reflective of the ones in this world. However, if you want a religious holiday that people stick with and want to celebrate, it helps to have some reasoning behind this.
When thinking about religious holidays in fantasy, it’s important to consider why people celebrate. There’s a good chance not everyone in your world is deeply religious (even if the country is). Why do they celebrate? Why don’t they?
As a bit of a Grinch myself, I do end up asking this question a lot. I’m not religious, I find Christmas pretty stressful and yet every year I conform, buy presents, have Christmas food and so on. That’s because the whole thing is an important part of our culture. I can’t even imagine the family chaos if I said I wouldn’t be doing anything for Christmas.
There aren’t a lot of people in the UK that don’t do something this time of year, whether they’re Christian or not. So, what is the reason for this? Surely only Christians should celebrate a Christian holiday?
Well, for most people, it’s a nice time of year for a break. It’s an excuse to spoil your loved ones and get free stuff. You can eat your own body weight in chocolate and people will simply say “go on, it’s Christmas”.
Your characters don’t necessarily have to celebrate something out of enjoyment either. You could have celebrations and rituals provoked by fear if you want a darker spin on religious holidays. For example, if your people believe that the gods need to be appeased by sacrifice or you need to protect yourself from evil/death/curses, you could turn that into a religious holiday and have an almost-celebration in your world. It might not be fun, but it’s necessary for survival.
How does this affect celebrations? Do people look forward to it? Do they dread it?
What does it mean for infrastructure?
Okay, boring topic perhaps, but just as important. In the UK at least, the country largely shuts down on 25th December. Not for people working in certain professions of course. But on the most part, the country is out of action during a couple of days a year.
What does this mean for infrastructure?
Think about transport for one. Not much public transport runs at Christmas. So, if you’ve got a similar religious holiday and your characters need to travel or get around somehow, how does the infrastructure deal with that?
Is it believable to say that your country is busy celebrating a holiday but everyone’s still at work somehow? If your character stops for a loaf of bread, why is that baker working that day? Another thing to think about is access to healthcare. What if your character is dying and can’t find a doctor in the city that is working?
If you describe a day where everyday society stops, you can highlight all sorts of details when describing a scene. What would your character usually see at the marketplace? What is missing now?
Where’s the conflict?
It wouldn’t be a novel without a bit of conflict. If you’ve read my other post about religion and conflict, you’ll know that religion is one of the subjects I use for the conflict factor.
When religious holidays come about, there are all sorts of opportunities for conflict if you want to ramp up the drama a bit in your story.
Take inspiration from this world. Think of the number of people who get salty over the phrase “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” – and that’s in largely secular societies like the UK. Of course, you can go much further with the conflict here but that’s just a small example.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know I love little details like this. It might be overkill, who knows, but I think part of the fun in world-building is considering all the little possibilities like this and creating something that’s real and immersive. Religious holidays in fantasy is just one part of this.
Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, not bothering, not able, or have another celebration in mind: Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
Are you including religious holidays in your fantasy novel? How are you depicting it – a merry celebration or a dark holiday? Drop a comment below.