I’m going to be the same old history nut here and draw on tradition in the real world to influence fantasy. I know, I’m like a broken record. But honestly, this is somewhere I don’t see quite as much depth and development in the fantasy genre. There are celebrations and feasts aplenty — usually to celebrate a name/birth day or a great military victory — but it seems like many of us (myself included) gloss over the whole who/where/why/what/how of tradition by stating plainly: “This is what happened and this is how we celebrate it. End of story.” But tradition isn’t usually like that. Not really.
Since it is Christmas Day in much of the world, and countless millions are clustered around trees opening presents, it’s got me thinking about Biblical tradition, and the fact that there actually was no documented celebration of Cristes-messe until long after Christ, and no mention of celebrating his birth anywhere in scripture. Hmm…so this tradition commonly associated with those who follow Christ (since it IS literally titled Christ’s Mass) sprung up from nowhere? I mean, where do we decide it actually began, if it isn’t anywhere in the four books about the Messiah we’re supposedly celebrating?
(Not to mention Jesus was Jewish, and he celebrated Jewish feasts.)
Have you read the Wikipedia history of Christmas? It’s like…whoa. Many people believe Christ’s Mass started with…well, Christ. But it probably started way earlier, as pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice, Sun God, and Epiphany wound their way into new traditions of reveling and drinking that turned into old traditions and then came new traditions of gift giving and tree-worshipping and all vaguely at the same time or before or after it was adopted by the Catholic church as a celebration of the Messiah’s birth and is now a huge consumerism event and ohmigosh my brain is tired. It’s shrouded in complexity, with many influences from Greek and Roman history and worship, and even random Santa Claus/Father Christmas/St. Nicholas connections from worship of Molech in the Middle East waaaaayy back when, all with sometimes very loose or nonexistent ties to Christianity. So maybe it wasn’t even a Christian holiday to begin with? It’s almost impossible to untangle who brought what to the table, because it’s all linked and related because people groups and stories and traditions are often linked and related.
And therein lies my fascination with traditions passed down through centuries of a changing humanity. How do we untangle it? In the pages of a fantasy epic, we probably don’t, and that adds to the realism. To be genuine, it’s got to be deep, confusing, complicated — and even you, the writer, may not know exactly how all of this started thousands of years in the past of your fantasy world. In order to give tradition many facets, consider this:
–Each character has his/her reasons for celebrating.
–Each character has his/her version of how the original feast was celebrated.
–Each character has his/her personal past connected with this feast, since it’s a recurring event.
If you go at it from your key characters’ perspectives alone, you’ll have several different interpretations. And that’s so cool. It’s beautiful, deep, diverse. It can be unsettling (for the character) if they don’t know what they’re celebrating and why. It can be warm and fuzzy because they have good memories connected with tradition. It can be creepy because bloodshed was once involved. Dude, tradition can be your wild card! What happened?
— Rachel O’Laughlin