How to Create Holidays in Your RPG Fantasy Worlds — Taking a Tip from Terry Pratchett
Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Happy Kwanzaa! Blessed Yule! Phew! Happy Hogswatch! *Wipes sweat from brow* There are a ton of holidays this time of year, and that last one mentioned is what sparked the inspiration for this article. Hogswatch is a fictional holiday presented in the Discworld. During my annual re-read of Hogfather by Terry Pratchett I got to thinking about creating original holidays in fantasy worlds.
Creating holidays for fantasy worlds
Introducing original holidays in your tabletop roleplaying game fantasy worlds can really sell it as a living, breathing place. However, creating a holiday isn’t quite so simple as reskinning a holiday from our own world. I mean, don’t get me wrong, reskinning a holiday to fit in your fantasy world is certainly better than just transplanting it outright. After all, what’s Hanukkah without Judas Maccabeus? I suppose it’s possible to transplant Kwanzaa without the African culture being present in the fantasy world, but it loses its punch in my opinion. And Christmas just doesn’t make much sense without the influence of Christian tradition, to the point it’s literally in the name.
So how can a worldbuilder like yourself invent their own holidays for their RPG setting? It’s actually relatively easy, provided you keep a few things in mind.
Mythology and lore
Part of what makes Hogswatch so iconic to Discworld is its grounding within the mythology of the series. Every holiday has some sort of story associated with it, to some degree. This story is recounted at each celebration.
By devising mythology to originate your holiday, you cement the holiday’s place in your fictional world. Anytime you take opportunity to build history and tradition into your world, it breathes new life into it. It expands the events of the world outside the purview of the main characters and emphasizes that it’s so much bigger than their own accomplishments.
What conflict surrounds the myth?
In our world there are often multiple interpretations of a single event. Just take the Christmas myth: is it about the birth of Jesus, St. Nicholas’ goodwill to “good” children, the horror of Krampus or something else entirely? People often disagree about myth and history, even if it’s only on the finer details.
Is your holiday inherently religious? If so, are there opposing religions that have alternate interpretations? Do some find certain traditions of the holiday to be grotesque?
The questions of conflict surrounding your original holiday can be endless. Most of these presented are intended as a springboard for your own mind to soar.
That being said, is the holiday itself steeped in conflict, or the resolution of a conflict? Are there still people trying to rekindle the feuds of olden days? Perhaps your adventure hook centers on a sect bent on sparking conflict anew, or “finishing” something the holiday’s events were said to have finalized?
What about tradition?
All holidays have traditions, from decorating trees we bring into our homes to nightly candle lighting ceremonies. Traditions are a staple of holidays, and different cultures that celebrate the same holiday can have wildly different traditions or interpretations of those traditions. They might even have their own stories about why the traditions vary.
Another staple of tradition is food. From latkes to leaf bread to roast beast, food can evoke nostalgia for holidays and seasons moreso than many other traditions.
One aspect of bringing people together for the holidays is in introducing our friends to our own cultural traditions. In a standard D&D party you’re likely going to have two or more different races represented. What sorts of racial traditions might one character be able to share with the others? Letting your players imagine and share some of their own character’s traditions with the group can be a great way to invest your players into the narrative and accomplish some worldbuilding simultaneously.
Familiar with a tweak
One of the easiest ways to build some holiday traditions, food, and other elements into your world is to take something familiar and tweak it just a bit. For example, in Hogfather, the Hogfather is a jolly, fat (essentially half-orc) man who magically climbs down chimneys to deliver presents to good children. In exchange, the children leave a pork pie (let’s just ignore the implications, there) and a glass of sherry for him to enjoy before he leaves.
The obvious analogy is to children leaving milk and cookies for Santa Claus. Just adjusting a familiar practice easily and almost effortlessly nudges the tradition into the realm of “just alien enough to believe it exists in this fantasy world.” And that spirit really encapsulates the fantasy genre well. Take a time period, tweak it with “because magic” or some other fantastical element and give it a new name. The result is both alien and familiar, and when building holidays for your own fictional world this is the sweet spot you’re trying to achieve.
What do you think?
Does this article light a candle under your creative trousers? Do you have new ideas for reasons and seasons in your own fictional world? Are you familiar with the Hogfather book or movie adaptation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments! And until next time, Merry Christmas. Blessed Yule, Happy Kwanzaa. Happy Hanukkah, and Happy Hogswatch!
Here are a few other Christmas and holiday-related ideas for your 5E D&D games. If you’re a true winterphile, keep an eye on our Patreon too. The monthly rewards for January feature a treasure trove of wintry magic items and player options like subclasses for several classes and a new playable race.
- The Gingerbread Gang Joins the War in Christmas Village
- Why You Should Gift Adventure Modules This Holiday
- An Invitation to the Winter Court
- 3 Christmas and Holiday Adventure Ideas from Folklore for 5E D&D
- Game to Table: Holiday Festive Food Ideas for Your RPG