Happy, Horrifying, and Harried Holidays

christmas dudeAs we delve headlong into another holiday season (Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, New Years etc…), I hope you and your family have an amazingly wonderful and restful time. But I’m also aware that they holidays can be just as stressful as they are joyful. Cleaning house for guests, out-of-town travel, feasts to prepare (and clean up after), shopping and wrapping—they take a toll on you. And, of course, there’s always the first Holiday after losing someone special to you.

Just as they are for us, holidays are an important part of fiction. Just think of how many movies take place on or around a particular holiday. How many of your stories mine the emotional depths of a holiday season? It doesn’t have to be Christmas. Maybe it’s the 4th of July.

Or, if you’re writing a Sci-Fi or Fantasy, maybe it’s a completely fictional holiday (like thee Feast of the Undead). Here’s an opportunity to world-build. What is the holiday? What does it celebrate? What religious ties does it have? Has it changed over the course of the hundreds of years it’s been celebrated? What rituals and rites are associated with it? What does it look like for the rich? For the peasants?

Here are a few of the things holidays can do in your fiction:

  • Draw on a preconceived perception of a widely celebrated cultural observance
  • Establish several rituals and rites and religions
  • Establish a ticking clock (something must happen before Christmas, or Thanksgiving, or the Feast of the Undead, or Vulcan Independence Day)
  • Provide a colorful backdrop for a story that might otherwise have a bland setting
  • Twist something we’re familiar with just enough to make it strange and uniquely appealing  (Christmas in the Bahamas, Valentine’s Day for a polygamist, Easter in Australia)
  • Act as a marker of a significant moment in a character’s life (some tragedy at Thanksgiving, or getting an engagement ring on Christmas Eve, or a break-up on New Year’s Eve)

The above list is far from exhaustive. Feel free to chime in and mention some other things holidays can do for fiction.

Take a moment to examine your story and ask yourself if you’re properly delving the depths of the holiday season. Or, if your story does not account for holidays, think of a way to incorporate one. How might it benefit your story? How might it better inform and develop your characters?

**Special thanks to Michela Hansen of http://www.toursdepartingdaily.com/ for the use of the image. If you’ve not had a chance to check them out, they put up some of the best photography on the web. Stop on by, and tell them I sent you.

7 thoughts on “Happy, Horrifying, and Harried Holidays”

  • I usually don’t write stories that has Christmas, Halloween, New Years Eve, and so forth but I have wrote one before. In every show that I’ve seen on TV, they have a christmas special or other holidays. Watching those helped give me a general idea of how to write stories that include some kind of a holiday. It’s really fun to do especially if you’re writting it when there really is a holiday coming up in real life.

    I like what you wrote for the 5th bullet. I never really thought of doing something like that.

  • Holidays, huh? I’ve never given much thought of holidays for my stories, unless you count the occasional birthday. You’ve brought up an interesting point, sir. Perhaps I will start experimenting with the concept of holidays and see what I can come up with.
    Hmm. It should involve… something. And it will be something cool. I’m sure the story will let me know when I have an idea that it likes. For now, the hard part–plotting.
    Thanks for another wonderfully thought-provoking post. I feel I can use this concept greatly to my advantage.

  • I definitely hear Squid on this one haha. Holidays don’t exist much in my book, though it might be intriguing to make up a few and see how the oil mixes in the water. Night of the damned sounds like a good one to me ….. this just opened a whole new train of thought that I will gladly loose sleep over Gansky :] . I never once thought to include a holiday, whether it be known or not, guess it sounded to overdone. Thanks Gansky for “another wonderfully thought-provoking post”!

  • Having a dramatic climax around or even on a particular holiday would actaully take my storys/ poems to the next level. I never really thought to use something far out of my “safty zone”. I try to keep it basic and just a tad of safe.

  • Never thought of a holiday. Now I have a fresh new idea that I can put into my story, just so it can give a little bit of warmth in that otherwise cold stroyline and whatnot, thanks

  • So, thank you for the idea Gansky. . .I’ve never really put a holiday into one of my stories but now that you mention it, I think it will be a great idea. And I also like the “receiving an engagement ring on Christmas eve” idea

  • Hm I hadn’t thought about this. I never would have included a holiday in one of my stories. seems like an interesting thing to do .

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