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Holidays in writing–Should You Include Them? Which Ones? How?

By on December 25, 2014 . Category Column

To all who celebrate: Merry Christmas! You’re probably not reading this on Christmas day, since you have presents to open and family to entertain, but I hope it’s merry anyway!

And even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, I do hope you’re enjoying your day :)

All this Christmas talk has brought me to my point: Holidays.

See, as writers, we can’t let anything just BE. We have to dissect it in case we ever want to include it in our stories. So naturally, we wonder about holidays. Namely, how to go about, or whether to even bother, including them in our stories.

Basically, holidays in your stories are as simple or complicated as you make them.

For some stories, like contemporaries set in your own town/country/culture, including holidays is simple—you just write what you know!

However, if you’re writing about a culture or country you’re unfamiliar with, a little research is going to be in order. Even regional differences should be noted so that you’re writing true to your characters.

But what about when things get even more complicated than that?

Some stories are set far in the past, or far in the future. Others are set in alternate realities, or earth-like settings that aren’t really earth. How should you handle holidays then?

The easy answer is: Don’t. Just don’t set your story around holidays and avoid them as much as you can. It makes life easier and, if you have a full plot, the absence of holidays won’t even be noticed, as they’re not exactly an integral part of storytelling.

However, if your story spans several months, or even years (as is often the case with series), the notion of holidays will likely become at least a little relevant.

If that’s the case, you’re going to have to make some decisions. In the case of other countries, you at least have the internet on your side. Not only can you research any questions you might have, but you can actually connect with the people of that country and learn about their customs, traditions, and celebrations.

In the case of historical celebrations, most things are pretty well documented. If they’re not, well, that’s why it’s called creative license! Learn everything you can, and then fill in the details as needed—you’ll be surprised how naturally this comes when you’ve done your research and know your story well.

For fictional worlds, you have more freedom, but there’s also more of a challenge, as you have to figure out what it is your characters will do.

This goes a lot deeper than “How would they decorate their Christmas tree?” Do they have a Christmas tree? Do they have Christianity? Or any other religions from our time/world?

What about other holidays? How would they celebrate other things, like birthdays? Or weddings? Or the changing of the seasons?

The fun is that you get to invent holidays, festivals, and traditions to support the culture you’re building. In fact, if you’re making up your own culture, an excellent way to reveal more about the people and customs of this culture is to deliberately include a holiday or other celebration.

The food, the music, the stories, the customs—it becomes a story in and of itself.

Don’t let this overwhelm you, just draft up some notes and build off real events to create your own. Outline it, and maybe write a short synopsis of the kinds of things people do during this time. Still feeling lost? Try this approach: Outline a real holiday, and write a synopsis about that. Get into the details of how you and your family celebrate, or how your community comes together. Then, use that as a guideline for creating your culture’s holiday.

If there’s no need to include them, feel free to leave holidays out entirely. Plenty of books are written that don’t even reference a holiday in passing, let alone celebrate one, and that can easily be your book, as well.

However, whether fictional or real, a holiday celebration can really flesh out the spirit of your story and show more of the culture you’re portraying to your audience, and that’s always an awesome thing to include in your writing.


What’s your favourite holiday and would you want to include it in your stories?


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