It’s that time of the year again, when my playlist is filled with Christmas music, and I find it increasingly difficult to wait for my holiday to begin. It will be a proper holiday this year too – two whole weeks, in fact, due to compensatory time off and such things – and I can’t wait. There will be heaps of wonderful food, socializing with family I don’t see very often, and time to catch up on my reading or any of my creative projects – or just relax. I’m always very sentimental when Christmas is approaching.
In my conworlds – particularly the one used in my stories – I’ve thought very little about celebrations, until I was editing the plot of Rogue Sorcery and realised that the world was really dull. It was a pity, because the world itself is as far from dull as you could get. But if it never shows up in the story, how could you tell? I realised that my own stories were lightyears apart from the literary worlds I’ve admired for years, with their detail and history and life. So I started rethinking the way my world worked. How would these large-scale things affect people in their daily lives? What would be important to them? Which parts of the year did they find useful or important to celebrate? How would these things be uniquely Ayamarian, not just glossed-over Christmas/Yule and Midsummer?
The work is far from done. Ayamar is filled with culture after culture, so it would be far-fetched to even think about being fully done one day. But I have begun, and I like what I have so far.
The darkest part of winter, at least in the north, is the Standstill. Everything – literally everything – is still. There are no stars, no sun, no moon, and the monsters and magical creatures who normally have to keep underground, out of the light, are suddenly free to roam the surface. It lasts for the equivalent of nine days, and they are the nine most terrifying days in the entire year. You cannot go out to fetch water. You cannot go out to hunt, or to visit a neighbour, or to tend to animals, or any of the other things you might need to go outside to do. The exception is if you live in a big city, where there is always light and city walls and guards, but even there people are reluctant to go outside.
Needless to say, when those nine days are over, people need a good celebration. They get their finest clothes, best food and invite over everyone they know, and even if it is in the middle of the winter, they open every window and every door to let as much light as possible in.
In the northern part of Mearan, which is the continent where my stories are set, some places celebrate a Festival of the Lights. They light lanterns and torches and bonfires and lamps and every little thing that can bring light. Some places they go to high places and let the lanterns fly with the wind – depending on how flammable the landscape is, but in general it is snow at this time – but mostly they just make sure that every single part of their home or village is lit.
In the evening the merchants open their stalls and there will be markets selling everything you can think of, and there’ll be games and theatre and music and dance and all sorts of activities. In the evening people will carry tables out into the streets, sharing the best meal they can possibly make. The nobles of the city – or at least those who care about their image – will hand out food and lanterns to the poor, and the youth will make the streets unsafe for everyone. Not everyone in Northern Mearan celebrate the Festival of the Lights, but there is almost always some sort of celebration or feast, and there is almost always plenty of superstition and myth connected to this day.
Another huge celebration is the New Year’s Day, or the Spring Feast. It is exactly three months after the Standstill, and on this day the winter is officially over in nearly all Mearan. On this day there is a huge feast, where the remaining food from the winter is eaten, and there is plenty of music and dance and friendly competition of all sorts. The celebration often lasts for the entire day and night, and it is considered very good to be wed or betrothed on this day, or to give birth (though not quite as much as on the first day after the Standstill). It is not quite so big as the celebration after the Standstill, but it is still a very important date.
The third large celebration is typically the end of the harvest, and as such it varies from place to place. When the harvest is done and the hunting season is well underway, people serve the best meat – either game or livestock – and the best foods, and it is a time for telling all the old stories and myths. It is a more modest celebration than the other two, mostly because the food will have to last through the winter, but it is a very important one, and also the most religious of the three.
What celebrations do you have in your conworld? Do you stick to those that look like our own, or have you invented something completely different?