As I write this, the Holiday Season is fast approaching. Johnn, my collaborator on this blog (and vice-versa) has written an excellent book on holidays in rpgs, but I thought it worth exploring some of the options for drawing inspiration from real holidays. (Obviously, since many are religious in nature, some people may be offended. I apologise in advance if you are one of them).
The first and most obvious option is to insert an equivalent holiday into your campaign. The denizens of your fictitious world might not celebrate Christmnas, but they might well have a celebration of the winter solstice (which is what Christmas started out as). Or they might have a Holiday in which everyone exchanges gifts. The more you know about the history and origins of a particular festival, the more source material you have to draw apon. Most nations celebrate the date of their independance, or the birthday of their monarch, or both. Most have some equivalent of Remembrance Day, and some have two – my native Australia celebrates Anzac Day on April 25th each year, but also commemorates Remembrance Day (the 11th day of the 11th month) with a minute’s silence at 11AM. And so on. None of this is treading waters too far removed from Johnn’s book.
But there are a number of alternative approaches to this source material, plus a combination, which can combine to produce a completely different holiday festival. For example, you can invert the mood, then interpret the holiday history accordingly. Take Easter, for example: A four-day holiday which brings fear, dread, and superstition (when the mood is inverted, that’s all about the dead rising. So for four days every year, the dead are permitted to rise from their graves in an effort to complete unfinished business. Homes would be locked, stores laid in, and no-one would go out if they had any choice in the matter. Where people had a choice, they might try to be so far away from the locale of their birth that the undead could not reach them in time. Others might believe that performing an act of atonement on the first day or night would protect them. From this springboard, many ideas can flow.
You can also invert the meaning of the holiday, as necessary. Instead of commemorating independance, why not a national day of mourning for the day they were conquered – but a ‘holiday’ with an undefined undercurrent of hope, as each year that passes brings them one year closer to their eventual overthrow of the conquerers. This might then persist as a festival of Hope (that appears to be anything but) long after the population has been liberated.
Another example derives from the gift-giving at Christmas time. Perhaps an annual moratorium on charging criminals with theft imposed by some past nobleman who believed in sharing the wealth, or perhaps in response to some noble being unjustly accused of theft years earlier?
Seek out the meaning and history behind what’s going on around you whenever you can – it will always prove beneficial to your game sooner or later. And it gives you something non-gaming to talk about at parties!