Monday, December 2, 2019

Writing Holidays in Speculative Fiction

by Ralene Burke @RaleneB

We’re right smack dab in the middle of holiday season! Halloween and Thanksgiving are behind us, and Christmas and New Year’s are both less than a month away. Welcome to my favorite time of the year!

Many writers of fiction that takes place in our world don’t have to worry too much about holidays. They only need to be aware of what they are and where they fall in their story timeline. If a writer is writing a historical novel set in winter in 19th century England, but they don’t have the character’s celebrating Christmas in some way? Well, that’s a little weird. 

In speculative fiction, however, we don’t necessarily have those restraints because our worlds are either completely made up or alternate timelines. Either way, holidays should still be a part of our world building because holidays mark times of emotional and community importance that could affect the story.

However, just as with other aspects of world building, we would do a disservice to the readers and our story if we randomly made up holidays and placed them anywhere on the timeline. 

Holidays usually fall into 4 categories:
  • Seasonal (think Harvest, Solstice, etc.)
  • Religious (to note major events like we do Christmas and Easter)
  • Historical Events (think Thanksgiving, Independence Day, etc.)
  • Important Dates (someone’s birthday, New Years, etc.)

My Sacred Armor Trilogy takes place in a completely made-up world, so I did not have our holidays to fall back on. So far, only one holiday has shown up in my story world. In Armor of Aletheia, the characters celebrate the New Year—a community feast to thank the Creator for the blessings of the last year and to ask for protection and such in the year to come.

While Sword of Soter does not show any holidays, Temple of Tzedek will highlight two. One is a beginning of the harvest season, the other will be a kingdom-specific holiday where they are forced to celebrate the day the evil warlock came to power. Fun, right?

Things to remember when creating holidays:
  • Culture-specific: While many cultures may celebrate the same holiday, they often celebrate it in different ways. Just think about how many incarnations of Santa Claus there are.
  • Rational: The holiday should center around something that makes sense to the people. Holidays are often a result of a strong emotion attached to a people group.
  • Traditions: Similar to culture-specific, most holidays have specific traditions that are associated with it: like cake and presents for birthdays or fireworks on 4th of July. 
  • Range: Some holidays are world-wide; some are just for a community or family. 

I love discovering what kinds of events my characters enjoy celebrating. And it’s different for each of them, just like it is for us. Some people love Christmas, some would rather sleep through it. Some people really get into Valentine’s Day and all it stands for, while others say the candy companies are capitalizing on consumerism. 

Our characters should resemble the collective as well, remembering that holiday opinions are often a result of past experience, religious/familial beliefs, and current priorities.

Now I need to go write some Christmas cards so I can get them sent off this week. Yes, I’m one of those. I pray each of you is inspired and encouraged this holiday season and as we prepare for the new year. Blessings!


Whether she’s wielding a fantasy writer’s pen, a social media wand, or a freelance editor’s sword, Ralene Burke always has her head in some dreamer’s world. And her goal is to help everyone #SHINE Beyond their circumstances! Her novels, Bellanok and Armor of Aletheia, are available on Amazon. More fantasy novels coming soon!

When her head’s not in the publishing world, she is wife to a veteran and homeschooling mama to their three kids. Her Pinterest board would have you believe she is a master chef, excellent seamstress, and all-around crafty diva. If she only had the time . . . You can also find her on FacebookInstagramTwitter, or at her website.


  1. Holidays are not to be overlooked when world-building. Indeed, they add an important cultural element to make a secondary world feel realistic.
    Great article, Ralene!