Because you’re a person who lives in the world, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Festivus, of course, is the invented holiday ‘celebrated’ by George Costanza’s family (and my family, and maybe yours) originally seen on Seinfeld.
In my last article, I wrote about the power of imaginary books–books that characters in novels talk about and read, but don’t really exist. (I suppose it must be said that all holidays are imaginary, in that someone, somewhere thought them up and told their buddies they had a great idea for a day off.) I thought about our human holidays, and how much of the trappings of Christmas, for instance, are just things we talk and sing about because we always have. Santa is an elf, right? But he’s also normal person sized. And he comes down the chimney. And flying reindeer, and the colors red and green. Why? Why do we drag live trees into our houses? Why would anyone bring myrrh to a manger? What is myrrh?
When creating a world for one’s novel, imaginary holidays are another way to shine a light on your culture and bounce your characters against each other. What gets your society together? Did they win a war or crown a ruler? Is it a religious event, or is your society a secular one? Is it a solemn occasion, or an excuse to drink and dance? Maybe they celebrate writing a song, or the color blue, or cats. (That sounds like a pretty good idea, actually.) You get to dress your characters up and send them to parties, and they either live it up or bitch about being forced to attend.
In my book The Sand Prince, the human world celebrates something called The Quarter Moons Party (they have two moons.) It’s a combination of Independence Day and New Year’s Eve, and it celebrates a great victory and the continued safety of their home city of Mistra. Victory over whom? No one really remembers, and the songs they sing only vaguely allude to ‘locking The Door.’ Everyone wears white and there are special treats you only get once a year. Why? It’s always been that way. The demons of Eriis who live on the other side of that Door remember it very differently, and when one of them visits the human world, he takes great offense at all the celebration. (He’ll probably appreciate the open bar, though.) Like everything else, an invented holiday is really just another way to explore your characters reactions to the world around them.
So whether you celebrate Durin’s Day or First Contact Day, or save up your grievances for Festivus, have a safe and happy one!