Friday, September 16, 2016

Celebrations in fantasies

Legends and festivals and celebrations--pretty much every fantasy story I've read has a few. As does the real world.

In one strange land, people gather together in giant picnics
and make things explode in the sky to celebrate successful
treason against their ancestor's king.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a harvest festival celebrated in China, Korea, and Vietnam (and anywhere else their diaspora live). One of the stories about its origin (much simplified) are about an archer named Hou Yi and his wife Chang'e. Hou Yi performed an act of heroism and was sent an elixir of immortality, but when he left the home, a treacherous apprentice tried to steal it. So Chang'e drank the elixir to keep it safe, but doing so made her fly off into the sky. She took up residence on the moon, and her devoted husband began the tradition of offering sacrifices once a year to her of her favorite foods.

My husband tells me his memories of these celebrations revolve around eating moon cakes and having barbecues.

Every culture has legends, has parties, has celebrations. Like in reality, the timing often coincides with major events, such as solstices and equinoxes and harvests and plantings. And what and how people celebrate tells you a bit about them, about how their society began.

When you begin to plan a celebration as a plot device, it's a good idea to know what the people in your world hold dear, and how they would celebrate. Food? Dance? Prayer? Offerings? Costumes? Usually parties of some kind! It's also a good way to kick up the detail in the world, perhaps work in some local legends, or even a touch of foreshadowing. And it can even help set the tone, from a macabre autumn celebration of death and honoring ancestors in a court where too much nostalgia for the past is treason, to a cheerful farmer's welcoming of a new planting and hopes of good things to come.

Have you seen celebrations used well to set tone in a work of fantasy? And were any legends about the holiday used to create setting?

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