Today is Thanksgiving in the United States. It's a National Holiday that for many people is bigger than Christmas, at least for their enjoyment and how much they look forward to it. It also has me thinking about why Holidays happen, and what that can mean for your game. We've talked before about Holidays, but I'm not sure we went into the cause aside from just briefly. So, without further ado, let's get into it.
What Is In A Name?
Not sure how true it is, but a lot of noise gets made about Holiday coming from Holy Day. In other languages the word for Holiday translates into things like "Rest Day" and in a sense both are correct depending on culture. Keep this in mind, and we'll get back to it soon.
The Purpose of a Holiday
Believe it or not there is a practical purpose for Holidays. They allow for a couple of things. One, they help to mark the passage of time and key dates for the people of lower classes who do grunt work. Two, they give the people who do that grunt work something to look forward to and time to enjoy. Three, they allow using of resources that may otherwise go off and can't be stored.
In Universities today in the United States there is a Spring Break and, increasingly, a Fall Break. These breaks give students a week off in the middle of the semester. The thing is though, Fall Break is spreading because they've found that schools with a Fall Break have much lower levels of student suicide. The break gives the students a stress break at a much needed time. It lets them spend time with friends and family. And that does worlds of good for their mentality.
In a fictional example, the Scorpion clan in L5R treats their peasantry among the worst of all the clans. However, they also boast more holidays and festivals of all the clans and that keeps the morale of the peasantry up. It also keeps them liking their masters who are so generous with days of rest and celebrations.
The point of all this, is remember that there are two purposes to a holiday. The first is the reason the holiday is meant to honor, the second is the carefully spaced out benefit to the masses. Heck, even in the U.S. Thanksgiving is the beginning of the "Christmas Season" so to speak.
Actual Holy Days
The first, and perhaps most common reason, to get holidays is for them to actually be Holy Days. In Fantasy worlds with many gods these can be numerous and easy to come up with as you have a plethora of gods to use. They can also vary from Kingdom to Kingdom to show favor with one group of gods or another.
Some common ideas are: god birthdays, weddings, battles, and other important events. There are also ones for significant dates such as the longest and shortest days of the year (the Winter/Summer solstice) and also the equinoxes for the passing of seasons.
Significant Events and State Holidays
We touched on significant events with religious days, but there are those for the state as well. Holidays built for significant events honor an actual thing happening. The fun part about these is they can be repeating, or they can be a one off. For example, the King's Wedding is likely going to be a one off celebration, but the wedding of a King that forged a new country, or made an ally out of an old enemy, could be celebrated every year for as long as the alliance lasts.
By the same token, the death of a prince may be a one off "celebration" while the death of a hero could be an annual event.
Also touched on during religious holy days - amazing how much religion impacts these in some cultures isn't it? - but significant dates and times are also important. The beginning of spring, also often referred to as the beginning of the new year, is a big holiday. So to is the marking of the seasons, but in particular the beginning and ending of Winter is huge. Why? because going into winter you need to have enough food to last the winter stored. Coming out, well, it's time to get back to work and people are fed up of being stuck in the house for the past 3-4 months.
Other dates could be significant depending on your area. If you live in a place where a river floods annually, there would probably be something to mark the time and frequently those things are holidays - even if they happen after the flooding ends.