The holiday season is often a period of joy for many people around the world. My family and I have always celebrated Christmas together, and we get all the relatives we can together for it too. Over time, our gatherings have become smaller and smaller as people have grown up, moved out and so on. We always have a celebration, though.
The reason this is of particular relevance to writers is because this time of year is particularly memorable for many people. Several religious celebrations, not just Christmas, are held around this time and so it’s a great unifying factor for many people. It’s a time of year that people look forward to (or perhaps dread a little, financially) and something that so often makes people wonderfully happy.
Holidays in general, as well as festivals and the like, are a large part of what defines the year of many people. Pop culture conventions like Comic Con and Supanova are events that many people spend months preparing for.
So when you intend on creating a universe, it is not enough to create the mountains and seas, the plains and the forests, the cities and animals and people. You also need to give it life. When I speak of life, I’m talking about things that define the lives of the people who live there. Whatever beings are the focus of the story, they should have some kind of events that act as focal points in their own lives.
Christmas is just one example, but harvest festivals (here’s an example) date back thousands of years. It is common for communities to commemorate a good harvest with celebration, and would have often been looked forward to. Weddings are a similar example – the union of two people has historically been celebrated in almost every culture in the world.
It’s important to note that these kinds of events add a significant dynamic to the flavour of a universe. It helps to structure the interactions between characters, and can even provide more levels to any complication that can arise within the storyline.
For example, the main character may be smuggling an important item within an effigy of a historical political figure, but they happen to be spotted with the item on a day that is commemorated with the burning of effigies of that figure. Festivals and celebrations such as these don’t only create more tension or flavour to the story, but they help the reader to believe that the universe is alive and organic. A living universe is a believable universe, and a believable universe is one that truly lives in the mind of a reader.
First, a festival should be time-locked in some manner. Harvest festivals frequently happen at the conclusion of a region’s local harvest, before the colder or less favourable weather would set in. A wedding might vary in time, but it is always to commemorate the union of two people. When a festival is introduced, it should be clear to the reader when and why it occurs, rather than just being because it happens to be convenient for the story.
Something that can further enhance a festival is the inclusion of a seasonal treat. For me, I think of hot cross buns and chocolate eggs around Easter, and fruit mince pies and puddings around Christmas. This is a food that should be special for that festival, that isn’t made at other times of the year, or perhaps that only makes sense to be eaten at that time (only in season then?).
A seasonal activity can also add a lot of enjoyment to the festival. For Christmas, it is the opening of presents. For many other religious times, such as Ramadan (Islam) and Lent (Christianity), fasting is a strong feature. What is the purpose of the festival? Why is it held? These questions will help with choosing an activity for your own story.
Most of all remember that festivals are usually about fun, but there can be many other kinds of seasonal activities. What suits your universe?