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Spring is Coming

February is a hard month for many people. I think it's partly the reason why Valentine's has become such a huge event, especially in American culture. This isn't going to be a post about Valentine's Day and singleness; though, if you are in a romantic relationship be aware of those who aren't for whatever reason. All the lovey-dovey can get people down.

Pour a warm cup of tea
Nope, this is a post about other things. It's a post about Spring, because, thankfully it is just around the corner. Now, granted, this has been our warmest winter in WNY for the past 140 years or so (records only go back to the late-Victorian era), neither have we had a great deal of snow this year. The last I heard, Buffalo was in a snow deficit of 25" or so.

This is a post about changes, because in twenty days, I'll be boarding a plane to take me to South Korea where I'll be living for the next twelve months. I'm both excited and nervous about the flight and trip, but I'm feeling a little more certain in my steps of late. It's a little nerve-wrecking when it all boils down to it. I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to live overseas for a year - after that, who knows.

This is also a post, because it is Monday, about writing. We were recently watching The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and I couldn't help me notice how it's a Christmas movie in its own right (and truth be told, probably one of the few "Christmas" movies I enjoy). It has the wonder (Narnia), the heartbreak (Edmund's betrayal), the shocking event (Aslan's sacrifice) which ultimately makes for a happy ending, though it is bittersweet.

Those thoughts led me to think about holiday movies in general. Now, granted, in America, we really only have Christmas movies. There are more Halloween movies produced, but there aren't all that many for the other holidays. How we celebrate holidays tends to reflect the values we place on those holidays. For example, Christmas is a time for families gathering around the fireplace to tell stories of old. We've transformed that past heritage into modern Christmas movies, which, in part does a similar thing.

Fourth of July is a day of celebrating our nation's independence, so we tend to go out in our red, white and blue to join with other Americans at picnics, fairs or games to ultimately watch fireworks on a summer's night.

Most of my current novels in progress have little or no holidays, but Azure Maris's most recent books (which, for those of you waiting will hopefully be out later on this year) deal with her role as a priestess among her people. In that, her most important roles tend to be around their holy days. How does someone go about creating rituals and other elements connected to holy days? What are the important emotions of these days?

In developing some of her holy days, both in passing comment as well as shown in the book, I tended to focus on a few elements:

  1. The role of the holy day. What was it's importance in regards to the culture of the character? For Azure's people, they had a day connected to the founding of their kingdom, the discovery of their tails, and the new year. In cultures where seasons change, holy days tend to focus on those days as well as days connected with planting seeds, growth and harvest.
  2. The importance of the holy day. While all holy days will be important to one extent or another, most cultures have a concept of high and low holy days. If you look at an American calendar, you have our big six holidays: New Year's, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Scattered around those are less-important holidays such as Veteran's Day, Columbus Day, MLK Day, and President's Day. How the various holidays play out in a culture may be dependent upon the importance a culture places on a holiday.
  3. The disruption of the holy day. Connected with the previous concept, is how the holy day affects everyday life. Take for example Fourth of July here in the US. Everything, except the bare essentials, it seems, shuts down. There are normally parades, fairs and other large gatherings happening so traffic is diverted or snarled. There are fireworks at night, so days are shifted to enjoy the evening events. It's a big deal, but when you compare Fourth of July to say Easter, while both are big holidays, how Fourth of July connects to most lives is different than how Easter does.
  4. The culture of the holy day. What is the culture that celebrates this holiday. Is it a religious or secular? If it is a mixed culture, is the culture itself more religious than not? Even if the holiday itself is not a religious holy day, a religious culture may turn it into a religious holiday. If the culture is especially religious, it might not have any secular holidays. On the other hand, a culture that is not especially religious may take a religious holiday and turn it into a secular one. Take for an example, Christmas. Originally a day for Christians to focus on Christ's birth and reason for coming to Earth, it has turned into a party celebrating the family with most of the changes occurring as it shifts from a religious holiday into a secular holiday.
  5. The history of the holy day. Why is this holiday even celebrated? If you're creating a world, you might not have the significance of the day fully fleshed out beyond having some holiday event. That's quite all right, especially if the holidays come in a list. Depending on how important the holiday is to the plotline, you might not even comment on it. On the other hand, knowing the history of the holiday helps develop the culture around it.
  6. The reaction to the holy day. This is a big one because it can be the catalyst to the story - how does the culture look at the holiday? If it's a political holiday, what are the significances of that day to the various groups within the culture? Columbus Day here in the US is a good example as it's becoming increasingly attacked, though even that isn't the best term. What was a day to honor the arrival of Europeans on the shores of the Americas has now proven to be a reminder of the destruction European culture has had on native culture. For those whose culture was irrevocably changed, the holiday can be a sore spot.
These are just some of the elements I've pondered while working on holidays in my books. As each section develops, I create a better idea how a holiday might be played out in another culture. One thing I tend to keep in mind is how the holiday affects those who don't fit the parameters, which brings us back to Valentine's Day as an example.

Here in the US, and elsewhere, Valentine's Day is dedicated to romantic love. While it started out as simply a saint's day (St. Valentine), it's turned into a secular holiday devoid of its religious origins. Beginning not long after New Year's Day, red and pink start popping up in stores along with hearts and chocolates. There are reminders everywhere about how many days are left, and with each passing year, the holiday seems to grow in size. It is a day dedicated to couples, and woe unto those who don't fit that limited field.

How do those who aren't a part of Valentine's day cope with the onslaught of love? Some ignore it as much as possible. Some shift the focus away from romantic love to other kinds of love such as self-love, familial love or friendship. Others embrace it in hopes of finding their one true love, and still more just enjoy the feeling regardless of their situation. Some make fun of it, and some draw attention by Singles' Awareness Day and the wearing of black.

Despite their focus on their own romantic love, what couples do to those who don't have a significant other? Do they make fun of them, try to incorporate them, ignore them or some mixture? Is it a big day for blind dates, and setting up friends? What about those who have a significant other that doesn't fit the appropriate mold a society has created? How do they fit within the parameters of celebration?

The history, social expectations, reactions and a variety of other elements come together to play a role in how a holiday is created and honored. From Valentine's Day to Samhain to any other holiday out there, the culture both dictates the holiday, and the holiday it's culture. It's a never ending circle of renewal and rethinking.

Happy writing.

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