In some sense, winter doesn’t seem like a good time to have a big celebration. It’s cold, hard to travel (if one lives in a place with snow), and every other person is ill.
But there’s Christmas and Chanukka. And there used to be Saturnalia and Yule. And what about all those fantasy novels with solstice celebrations?
Apparently, winter festivals are common.
They’re also fun to create. Partly because weird behavior gets pardoned if it occurs during a festival.
For instance, Saturnalia was celebrated by the Romans for seven days during the winter solstice. Naked dancing and singing in the streets were encouraged, and all forms of gambling were legal. All slaves were free for the entire festival.
I tried creating a holiday in a fantasy novel several years ago. It lasted for three days during which everyone was equal, shared the work, disregarded personal boundaries (i.e. went wherever they wanted even if it was someone else’s house), and ate tiny sugar sculptures and drank champagne. It was a great way to stick in scenes that hinted at mysterious sub-plots. I certainly enjoyed it!
Even modern reality has fictional sounding winter celebrations. In Switzerland, Baby Jesus decorates trees on Christmas Eve. In most countries, a fat, magical man sneaks into people’s houses at night. People exchange pieces of paper covered in glitter. Reindeer fly. Snowmen come to life.
But it’s not all fantastical. Some of my favorite memories are finding Santa Lucia carolers while in IKEA, visiting huge Christmas markets in Switzerland, seeing a motley nativity set where Baby Jesus was almost as big as Mary and the camels were tiny, waking up at dawn to carolers walking down the street in Basel.
What are your favorite winter festival memories?
Speaking of Christmas, it isn’t exactly the best time to get anything done. If you’re like me, making presents and cookies wins over writing every time. But I’m trying harder this year. (See! I just wrote this post!)
Happy winter festival!