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Friday, April 18, 2014

How to celebrate the holidays, writer-style

Happy Good Friday and/or Passover and/or regular Friday!*

Celebration and tradition can be beautiful things. How you celebrate and what your traditions are says a lot about your culture, and who you are as a nation, a religion, a society, a people and an individual. How we celebrate, how we engage and respond to celebration, is telling and -- from an author's perspective -- worldscaping gold.

Let's just look at our world, for a moment. Let's focus, specifically, on Easter. Easter is great for this post, because Easter is weird. It is the same religious celebration the world over: it is the day Christians and Catholics celebrate Christ's resurrection. But if you didn't know that, you wouldn't get that from looking at a lot of Easter celebrations and traditions. Being an American, I'm partial to the absurdity that is Easter in America. Easter in America (and, according to my [Wikipedia] research, the UK, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and Austrailia) involves the Easter Bunny.**

He wants your children ... and your chewy, chewy flesh.

Let's talk about this rabbit. Purportedly, Mr. Peter Cottontail hops on down the bunny trail because (hippity-hoppity) Easter's on it's way. He's allegedly bringing all the girls and boys, baskets full of Easter joy in or to make everybody's Easter bright and gay.

That's nice in theory. But in my childhood, the Easter Bunny was less a hopping, basket wielding joy-bringer, and more an 8-foot tall anthropomorphic hell demon in the vague shape of a rabbit whose lap I had to sit on while smiling as though the giant manflesh-eating-clown face behind me wasn't deciding whether to roast and pan fry my people meat. This creature was completely disconnected from the adorable fluffy bunny that presumably hopped around my backyard while I was at church wearing a pastel-colored bow tie and hiding eggs filled with candy and money.

This is just one example of an absurd Easter celebration. I was recently exposed to another, known as the Burning of Judas. A handful of countries (including but not limited Mexico, Greece, Brazil and the Phillippines) celebrate with the Burning of Judas, where is more appropos than bunnies and eggs -- at least in name. If you are unfamiliar, the Burning of Judas is a celebration wherein people create and destroy an effigy of Judas. The particular incarnation i am familiar with, though, occurs in Mexico*** and involved effigies that resemble less Judas, and more myriad of creatures that people just don't seem to like or are particularly good at making out of paper mache (elephants, chickens, snakes and so on). They then "burn" the effigy but choosing a lucky individual to wear the effigy hat (oh, did I forget to mention you carry the effigy on your head?) loading it with fireworks, and then lighting them. The wearer then runs like hell, whether it is at people or because they have fireworks exploding in his hair, I can't say for certain.

Let's bringing it back to writing now. The point is, holidays are pretty amazing. The creativity and freedom and expression that they allow for an author is unlimited. Celebrations like Easter, these Frankenstein traditions of stray elements of seemingly incompatible religions and traditions, have opened up a world of possibility to writers. Imagine Easter didn't exist. If you, as an author, were to create a society where once a year people celebrated their God's forgiveness and sacrifice, would you choose to have them dyeing eggs and wearing garish pastel hats and eating marshmallows shaped like baby chickens? Well, Easter does exist. So go for it, and make it weird and informative and awesome. Because, thankfully, we live in a world where far-fetched doesn't even begin to describe the holidays.

So embrace them, embrace celebration and tradition. You don't have to make them over the top, but how you characters and your societies celebrate, and what they celebrate, is a special opportunity for you as an author to craft your world and show the reader what's important, and how society is shaped.


* I am not good at religions, so it is extremely likely that I forgot a major holiday. I forgot this Sunday was Easter, if it gives you perspective. So I am very sorry for whatever I certainly forgot.

** Honestly, I don't even have the energy to get into the eggs. Easter is weird.

** I can't speak to whether or not this is true of all celebrations.

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