Today is Purim.
“What is Purim?” You may ask, “And why are you mentioning it on a writing blog?”
Well, as some of you (clearly not those who asked) may know, Purim is the Jewish holiday celebrating the events that took place during the book of Esther. As for why I’m mentioning it here— you remember when we spoke about Creating a Fantasy Culture a few weeks ago?
That was more of an overview. Today, since Purim is on my mind (and possibly some of yours) we can go more in-depth about part of the practices of your culture.
As a general rule, in every country that ever existed, holidays mean something. Whether people remember their meanings clearly depends on the people and the length of time since the holiday was first celebrated; but if you dig beneath the layers, you will find a meaning to almost every holiday that exists in our world.
Holidays help people to remember.
Usually events, but occasionally people. Purim celebrates the rescue of the people of Israel from brutal slaughter at the hands of a man named Haman. Over the years, it has also begun to be used to remember other times of suffering or oppression for the Jews. Every time Purim comes around, they remember suffering and, ultimately, rescue.
(In case you were curious; yes, Purim is going to be my example for this whole post.)
Of course, some people who celebrate this holiday don’t honestly care; it’s merely yet another holiday for them. And there will always be people who don’t care about what the holidays mean anymore, wherever you go.
Holidays almost always have to do with beliefs or history.
Christmas, anyone? (We’ll talk about that later.) Easter?
Holidays form out of exuberant people wanting to celebrate, or out of frightened people trying to prevent something.
Most of the Jewish holidays (Purim included) are born from a desire to celebrate. The so-called holiday of Halloween came from a pagan belief that they needed to scare away evil spirits by dressing up as demons and devils (no doubt here as to my opinion on Halloween). They were frightened people who went to drastic measures.
Holidays come up with bizarre traditions.
Have you ever noticed how strange it is to haul a tree into a house and hang things on it? Or to tack your socks up onto the fireplace?
Usually, the traditions had a beginning at some point; people rarely remember what it is. So while you may want to find out why they have their traditions, it probably shan’t be important to mention in your novel.
They forget the original point of the holiday. They assign different meanings to it. Christmas was originally a pagan feast day, which Christian missionaries decided they could keep if they called it Christ’s birthday.
People have forgotten what certain holidays mean, and people will forget in every culture—sometimes the meaning they assign anew to a holiday is better than the original; sometimes, it is worse.
Holidays show a lot about your fantasy cultures. It shows what they’re willing to celebrate, what they’re willing to call tradition, and what they call holy.
Does your fantasy culture have any holidays or celebrations?