It’s the generic “holiday season” here in the US, and today is the day after Christmas. It’s also Boxing Day, a traditionally British/Commonwealth holiday. It’s also the first day of Kwanzaa, an African American holiday created back in the 1960s. This December, my daughter declared she wanted to celebrated Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa so that she could give and get presents for all three. Hmmm. But what about the Martian holidays? John Carter’s birthday? Olympus Mons Eruption Day? Canal Day?
In SF and fantasy, we often talk about that sense of not here and not now. It both takes us to another realm as well as provides fuel for our willing suspension of disbelief. After all, anything is possible on St. Carter’s Day, right? But these holidays have to be more than Christmas in disguise, where sarcastic St. Mick brings broken toys to all the bratty kids on his gazelle-powered flying stagecoach. Otherwise, they’re, well… lame. Like a silver aluminum tree with too much tinsel and not enough candy canes.
So what good fictional holidays are there? Most of the ones I can think of from other writers are largely dressed up traditional ones. They’ll usually still call Christmas Christmas, but days like the summer or winter solstice take on much more reverence, going back to the power evoked in their pagan roots. Halloween becomes a terribly dark night where the spirit world brushes past us. I’ve even seen it call Soul Night. But I can’t say that I’ve seen that many holidays created from scratch.
In my own stories, I have played around with this some, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it. On a multi-generation colony ship, the biggest holiday is Launch Day, but there’s a smaller holiday called Turning Day, the day that they reached the midpoint of their journey and reversed from acceleration to deceleration. Launch Day is a non-work day, with parties all around, but Turning Day is usually a quiet affair at home with a small dance for the younger folks.
On an ocean world I had Tidal Blessings, something of an ocean-centric Thanksgiving/Christmas combo, with a big family gathering and a little gift-giving. Of course, gifts are expected to be inexpensive and traditionally from the ocean itself: seashells, items carved from driftwood, coral pendants, that sort of thing.
In an elven city, every tenth night was Festival Night, but depending on the sun and moon cycles, some of them were more festive than others. In winter, the first Festival Night after a new moon after the winter solstice was the big winter celebration, known as Winter’s Kiss. The first Festival night after a full moon after the summer solstice was the big summer celebration, known as Summer’s Fire. Similar nights were based around the waxing and waning moons of the spring and fall equinoxes.
I find I really enjoy thinking about these kids of alternate holidays. Part of it is just a fun intellectual exercise, but I also find a real joy in thinking of more reasons and ways to celebrate. It’s Varkul Day, so everyone remember to wear your antlers! I’ve only celebrated Remembrance Day (January 11th) once, but after praying over the pine cone and releasing into that snowy mountain stream, I’ve never been able to look at pine trees the same way again. And what did you do this past Feather Day?
So, I’d love to see more of these kinds of holidays in my fiction, and I’m disappointed that I haven’t. Have you run into some that I’ve simply missed in my limited reading?
If I recall, Sharon Shinn wrote about a planet that worshiped two aspects of the same goddess, one joyful and sensual, the other serious and austere. I think there might have been mention of some celebrations in there, but for the life of me I can’t remember any details. Perhaps I need to re-read it! (It’s “Wrapt in Crystal”, BTW.)
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