Posted by: kshayes513 | December 14, 2008

Holiday Spirits

At this time of year, I usually listen to KING FM‘s Christmas Channel webcast, a solid 4 weeks of classical Christmas music from Seattle’s public radio station. It gives me a lot of beautiful Christmas music, without the endless, maddening replays of the 10 songs the pop stations play at Christmas.  However, I also use music to help me concentrate on writing. I’m finishing a new story this week, and I have to admit that Christmas music doesn’t match Khasran, where of course they don’t celebrate anything remotely like Christmas.

So what holidays, or feast days do they celebrate in Khasran, or in your particular world?  And how do we find them?

The holidays people celebrate reflect their culture. The most obvious type of holidays in 21st century western society are the religious holidays, like Christmas, and the national, patriotic holidays, like Memorial Day and Independence Day.  Many cultures also have holidays that celebrate the natural cycle: Thanksgiving was originally a harvest festival.

So you could start an exploration of your world’s holidays by looking at the natural cycle of their year, their religious beliefs and stories that are important enough to mark, and also at historical events that the society might commemorate. The major Christian and Jewish holidays commemorate specific stories (the Nativity, the Exodus); the Muslim festival Ramadhan celebrates a pillar of belief, the importance of fasting. Political holidays nearly always seem to celebrate a specific event or person in the nation’s history. And nearly every culture has some kind of New Year celebration: a chance to make a fresh beginning.

I don’t think its enough, though, just to stick in a splashy celebration, with fireworks, flower boats, or parades, as window dressing in the story or the game scenario. For a holiday to have importance in your world, it has to have weight and meaning to the people who celebrate it-preferably many lifetimes of weight.

The weight comes, I think, from the myths that go with the holiday. When I say “myth”, I don’t mean a story that’s inherently fictitious or non-historical. I mean any story that has spiritual meaning and emotional resonance to the people who keep it. Christmas has its emotional power largely because it’s about love: God loves the world enough to come be part of it, and the weakest part, a baby.

Like holidays, myths can be religious (the Exodus, the Nativity) or historical (Washington at Valley Forge, the D-Day invasion of Normandy), or natural (the sun being rekindled by the light of winter solstice fires).

In a simple culture, you can stick to the simple myths and celebrations that arise directly from events. But if you want to make things really interesting, start with that simple festival, and see how the culture changes it. When Christians decided to celebrate the nativity, they started, of course, with the Gospel stories; the holy child, the shepherds, the wise men.  As Christianity spread to northern Europe, the winter solstice celebrations got rolled into Christmas, with the Yule log burning in the castle hall, and the holly and greens and the mistletoe.

The Christmas we celebrate now bears little resemblance to the Christmas of the Middle Ages. For most people it’s about the Christmas shopping sprees, the decorating, keeping up the kiddies’ belief in Santa, going to family and office parties, and trying to remember in the midst of all that the “Christmas spirit” of generosity and sharing and peace.

So a holiday is a good chance to show the conflicts in your culture: what we want Christmas to be, vs how we actually celebrate it.

Right now I’m exploring Khasran’s culture to find what other holidays they might have, and when I find one, I’m going to write a holiday themed story.

Your assignment: find a holiday in your own culture, and write a story or a game adventure about that holiday.

Happy holidays!


  1. Hi,
    Thanks for mentioning our KING FM Christmas Channel. We appreciate it! I’ll take a look around your blog.

    PD of KING FM at

  2. KING FM’s webcast is a frequent year round companion when I’m at my desk. It offers an excellent range of classical music any time of day. And I have fun listening to to news and advertising from a different part of the country, like taking a little trip to the Northwest!

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