The Seven Kinds of Holiday

Okay, so my last two posts have been about religion. How about a trinity of religion posts? Okay, I’m sorry. No puns. Puns are heresy. Okay, I got that out of the way.

I want to talk about holidays. We just got done with Easter this year, and there are so many different ways people celebrate it. At least, there are different meanings for it.

For some, it’s the highlight of their year, the great holy day of the cosmic resurrection cycle of Christianity. For others, it’s the one day a year they go to church, the holy day that they remind themselves of their religion. For even others, it’s a day to go hunt for plastic eggs filled with candy (or in some more adult versions, with miniature whiskey bottles). But wait, there’s more! For some, it’s not Easter at all, but Pesach, Passover, the reminder of when the Israelites were freed from slavery to Egypt. For pagans, it’s the time of year when they mark the spring equinox. And then there are those who don’t care, who don’t celebrate holidays because they’re not religious. There are also those who don’t celebrate it because their religion forbids holidays.

Wait, that’s seven groups of people, seven different ways to view a holiday. This is going to be a long one.

1.      Mythic Remembrance

Now, before you think I’m insulting religion, I’m not using the world “mythic” in a derogatory sense. In fact, I think that not only does all religion have a mythic aspect, but non-religion does too. Why else would Browncoats hold so dearly to the freedom ideals of Firefly, or Trekkies make Star Trek a major part of their life? Myth is simply the medium of stories that bring us deeper meaning. For some, holidays are not so much about historical remembrance or annual cookouts, but about the mythic remembrance of their god. As far as many Christians are concerned, Easter is not just about a day when a man was crucified, but about the metaphysical point in all time when their deity passed the threshold and returned, fulfilling the hero’s journey and giving them the chance to live.

Now, I’ll admit, having grown up a Christian, I don’t know about how other religions view holidays like this, but I’m sure that they exist, where the holiday is just that, a holy day. It’s a point in space time where Divinity touches the Earth, where our reality is subsumed by the Greater Reality. If you’re going to create a religion for a fantasy world, or even for a science fiction setting, it’s important to remember that this is how many holidays either begin or end up. Liturgies and ritual tend to be the most important part of this kind of holiday, and they can be anything from sedate and stern to celebratory and ecstatic.

2.      Historical Remembrance

While the celebration of this kind of holiday can be similar to the mythic remembrance days, it’s different in that it’s to celebrate a historical event, and although Divinity might play a part, it’s more about what happened rather than what happens. Passover, when the Israelites left Egypt, Hanukkah, when the Temple was rededicated, and American Independence Day, when the Declaration of Independence was signed, all have one thing in common, they celebrate a historical event. Whereas the mythic remembrance days focus on something that is, in the perspective of the believers, continually happening, the historical remembrance days focus on something that happened, although it still affects them today.

These two perspectives may often merge in the same day. They may even be perspectives held by the same person. Since they’re not mutually exclusive, it would be fairly easy to create holidays that have both of them in this vein, and simply have different groups give different emphases, much like certain groups in America seem to hold up July 4 as a mythic day as much as they do a historical day.

3.      Annual Cycle

This one is a bit different from the other two in that it’s not always a distinctly religious holiday. Take New Year’s Eve, for example. Annual cycle holidays started out as ways to maintain the seasons and give meaning to the year, and for many, that’s still what they do. In Wicca, at least, they have the high days of the year that show the annual death and rebirth of the Horned God and the transition of the Triple Goddess from maiden, to mother, to crone. The Jewish Rosh Hashanah is as much an annual cycle day as much as it is both a historical remembrance and mythic remembrance day.

Annual cycle days are, in fact, often a subset of mythic remembrance days. Bringing the mythic cycle into the yearly calendar makes it real, and when you have a religion, a real, living religion, there is going to be myth whether you know it or not. Why else would people take the concept of New Year’s Resolutions seriously enough to even try them? Why wait for them? If you’re creating a religion for you world, remember that they need to have some way to count the years and a framework for their lives. The yearly cycle, or even the monthly cycle, is perfect for that.

4.      The Annual Reminder of Religion

Of course, there are some who will not be as devout in their religion as others, perhaps going to their place of worship only for the high holy days. This happens in the real world, and it will happen in any credible fictional world. They might even have a perfectly valid reason for this. It may be, though, that the religion is more of a cultural thing. It’s expected to listen to the priests, to celebrate the holidays. They don’t really have anything against it, but it just doesn’t have that much ritual oversight in the normal, everyday aspect of their lives. When you create a religion for your world, make sure that there are segments of the population who simply are not as…overt…in their piety.

5.      Food and Fun

Not all holidays are going to be religious, and sometimes, they’re just going to be about nothing more than having fun. Sure, Mardi Gras started out as a holiday to kick off Lent, basically do all the things you’re not supposed to do before you spend forty days not doing them. Now, it’s really not much more than an excuse for drunken debauchery. Of course, I’m not sure if ever was much more than that, but whatever.

Holiday celebration that is simply about having a good time is pretty normal, and for many, it’s the same holidays that the überreligious people are celebrating. For others, they just make up their own. Take Pi Day for example. March 14, also written as 3/14 in the U.S. is a day to celebrate math, the ratio of area over circumference, and eat pie. That’s really all it is. It’s pretty entrenched in geek culture, at least, and it seems to be growing.

These holidays seem to happen more when there isn’t really a strong religious or mythic undercurrent to a culture. People just need to celebrate, to hold something up as important and do something to remember it, like eat pie or, well, talk like a pirate. Sure, it’s silly, but the fact that it’s grown naturally shows it’s an important part of culture.

6.      Secular Non-Holiday

Now, not everyone wants to celebrate a holiday. When you’re not religious, or when you’re not a part of the religion celebrating the holiday, you just treat the day like a normal day. It might actually get in your way, how everyone treats it differently. Businesses are closed on Easter, and those who are simply not religious might want to get something done that day, but they can’t because, well, the people running those businesses are off celebrating. This isn’t as much of an issue in homogenized cultures, but in areas where there’s culture clash, you have people who just want the holiday to be a normal day. That’s not to say that people won’t have holidays, but rather that they’ll have different holidays.

7.      Religious Non-Holiday

Of course, there are always those who simply don’t have holidays. Some religions, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, believe that holidays are idolatry. While they do have a very strong religion that guides them, their ascetic nature keeps them from taking part in what the culture around them, or the culture they left, considers holy days.


Now that you’ve got an image of the different ways that culture can view holidays, what kind of special celebrations and rituals are you going to come up with for your world’s religion? There are different rituals from all around the world and all through time to choose from, and any mix of them would work in a fantasy world.


Religion: You can’t avoid it, but you can make it what you want.

Okay, so, last night, I put up a blog about religion. Specifically, about the different ways that deity or deities can be viewed within religion. It was more of an overview than anything, and I’m certain that there’s more to say on the subject. Now I want to go into the why. Why should you bother including religion in your constructed world? You may be an atheist and nonreligious, or even opposed to religion. You may be religious and not want to include anything that doesn’t mirror your own. These are both valid concerns. Really, they’re the same concern .

Why would you include a sociocultural point of reference in your fictional world that disagrees with the real world?

That’s the concern.

If that’s the case, then why are you making a fictional world to begin with? You’re creating a fictional world, but making a world is making everything that would be in a world. Religion is a part of the world as much as settlements and towns, even if it’s organized  irreligion. If you don’t want to make a religion, go the Gene Roddenberry route and make humanity “evolve past religion”, but even in Star Trek, the Prime Directive is treated religiously as the guide to all things good. Breaking the Prime Directive is treated in the same way as blasphemy. If you want to make only your religion, then make it allegory.

My point is that, when you’re making a full-fleshed and believable world, you need to take it seriously and to not take it seriously. It’s not this world, so you shouldn’t be so serious about copying this world. At the same time, if it’s supposed to be two or three hundred years into the future, you should consider using religions that exist, but consider that things will change. I have one religion in a science fiction world I’m developing that doesn’t appear until the early twenty-first century, because do we really believe that no new religions will form?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when creating a religion for a science fiction story:

  1. Is your bias getting in the way? Are you removing religion from your world because you want it removed, or because you sincerely believe that will die out on its own?

    Take Joss Whedon’s Firefly as an example. Whedon isn’t religious, and he certainly isn’t Christian, but he still had the presence of mind to include multiple forms of Christianity five centuries into the future. That’s a case of someone, who may not agree with a religion, understanding that the religion won’t simply go away.

  1. Are there sects or denominations that seem to be merging in their ideas? What new ideas might come out of what’s already here? In what way would a charismatic leadership be able to form a new religion out of what’s here?

    When creating a new world, whether a future world or a fantasy world, it’s a good idea to research the topics you’re using. I don’t mean to become a doctoral student on everything, but to at least have a passing knowledge of religion, society, culture, and the rest of the building blocks of the world. Religion forms through theology as much as it does through the charisma of teachers, and the social surroundings play a major part in it. Look into how other religions and sects formed through history and what was going on around them, what might have led people to that.

  1. Think of what new changes would happen in society that would prompt an entirely new religion? How would the religious react to terraforming planets, mining asteroids, or simply living in space?

    Might there be a religion formed around faster-than-light travel, or perhaps about opposing FTL? Might a religion believe that terraforming, or making an uninhabitable planet inhabitable, is the highest form of worship? Might a religion react to the vastness of space by becoming a cold warrior race that worships the entropic nature of the universe?

When you’re making a religion for fantasy, you might ask yourself these.

  1. Does my bias get in the way?

    It’s a bit more forgivable to allow religious bias in fantasy, since you’re making the world up from scratch and not reinventing the real world. Also, fantasy has been used for religious allegory for centuries. At one point, John Bunyon wrote about giants and monsters in Pilgrim’s Progress, and in the last hundred years, C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman have added to the debate with Lewis’s Christian series The Chronicles of Narnia and Pullman’s atheist series His Dark Materials.

    I’ll just say this. If you have religious bias in writing your fantasy, make sure that it’s intentional. There’s little that’s worse than an unintentional bias.

  1. What is the actual cosmology of the world and how would people react to that?

    The nature of religion is still important, but knowing if there really are gods and goddesses, angels and demons, or other spirits out there, would really help to know how religion would be affected. Do the deities take part in the world? Do they physically order the world and form the religion? People can get it wrong, easily. A fantasy world doesn’t require the presence of deity, simply the presence of magic.

  1. Are there any more questions I need to ask?

    Okay, I realize that this one is a copout. I didn’t have a third question for the fantasy section, so I just added this one. Still, it’s important to never stop asking questions. Was there something I missed? Was there something I could have done better? If you have a story set down already that delineates your world, then it’s canonized. But even then, it’s not that you don’t have to change it; it’s that you can’t. I’m not saying never write your story out, but never stop trying to figure out if there’s more you can do, maybe in later stories in that world.

Religion: Gods of a Fictional World

Okay, I want to talk about religion for a bit. I know, there’s that whole thing about not talking about religion or politics in polite company. So, I guess we’re not polite company. Great, glad we got that out of the way. Religion is a big deal, and when you’re making a fictional world, it’s not the best idea to just leave it out, ignoring how it would work in your world. People need something to believe in, and they will disagree with each other on what that means. That said, there will likely be multiple religious views in whatever world you make. In fact, I don’t really see how a world without religion, or a world with just one religion, would happen. If there’s a single, dominating religion, there will be people step up and make their own, for whatever reasons sincere or insincere.

For right now, I’m just going to talk about the different ways of viewing divinity. One god, many gods, all god. This isn’t just about the cosmology of the world and what is actually there, but what the people of that religion believe. You can certainly apply these to how your world actually is, but remember that, because people will disagree on what god means, there will be people who view it incorrectly.


The belief that only one god exists and the rejection of the claim that other gods of equal power exist. The Abrahamic religions are the most obvious to people today as being monotheistic, but that doesn’t mean that they are the only religions that have ever been, or even are, focused on the belief in only one god. It certainly doesn’t mean that, in making your world, you have to base a monotheistic religion on one of the Abrahamic religions.

It’s up to you, but there are a number of ways to view monotheism, and a key thing to remember is that, even if the deity in your world isn’t a real being, approach making the religion by delineating the deity of the religion as being a character in your story with a personality, however large or small you want to make it.


The belief that there are two gods, but no more. Dualistic religions can claim that the two gods are opposed to each other, as in the good and evil deities of Zoroastrianism, or that they are complementary to each other, as in the Horned God and Triple Goddess of Wicca. Dualism can also flavor other religions, as some aspects of Christianity involve a sort of dualism between St. Michael the Archangel and Lucifer while maintaining the primary monotheism.


Polytheism is, simply put, a belief in and worship of multiple gods. Simply believing that other gods exist doesn’t make a religion polytheistic, but if they are all worshiped, at least at some point, then it is. Greco-Roman, Norse, and Celtic religions would be most common to Westerners, but it is one of the most common religious types out there. This one can not only lend the most variety with the gods you include, with each god have a different domain, but also be a great example of how the culture works. Greek culture, for example, included Dionysus, god of wine, revelry, and women who tear your head off, as well as Athena, goddess of wisdom as well as war.


Henotheism is something between polytheism and monotheism. It’s essentially the worship of a single god while believing that other gods not only exist, but can be worshiped. Say your culture is predominantly polytheistic, but you have temple sects where the priests, and some of the worshipers, only follow the god of that temple. Those sects would be henotheistic aspects of the greater polytheistic religion. It’s not a big deal to get the terms down in whatever story you write, but just try to remember that, just because your culture has thirty different gods, that doesn’t mean that people will worship all thirty, or even more than one.


Monolatry, or monolatrism, is a pretty interesting case here. Like monotheism and henotheism, it involves the worship of only one god. At the same time, it doesn’t dispute that other gods or divine spirits exist; it just rejects the possibility of worshiping them. Essentially, monolatry claims, “Yes, these spirits you call gods exist, but my god is the only one that should be worshiped.” Take the Thirty-God culture I mentioned before and add a sect that doesn’t just only worship its one god, but rejects the other twenty-nine gods as being worthy of worship.


Pantheism is the belief that the Divine is not simply transcendent or in Heaven, but is everything. In pantheism, God is not just in the world, but is the world. Plants, animals, rocks, rivers, and even people are all divine. There are elements of pantheism in a lot of the world’s religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Gnosticism. If you’re including pantheism in your world’s religions, take note that you can make it pantheistic while still including elements of other pantheon types.


Unlike pantheism, panentheism doesn’t believe that God is all things, but rather that God is transcendent and exists in everything, but separate from it. Instead of being all things, God is in all things. It’s a fine point to make, but fine points are what make your world interesting. The devil is in the details, but the god can be found there too.


Like pantheism, animism believes that everything is divine, but instead of all being part of a single divine entity, the spirits are differentiated from each other. It’s not all as simple as that, either. Perhaps in your world all animals have divine natures, or animals and plants have divine nature.


I realize that you’d be unlikely to have an atheistic religion, but there is such a thing as non-theistic religions, where they have the philosophy and even ritual of a religion, but they don’t focus on a divine nature at all. At the same time, consider that you might have cultures and traditions that are atheistic in nature. After all, you want your fictional world to be realistic in some sense, right?


Anyway, that’s all the religious types I have for you for now. I’ll be going deeper into crafting religions in later posts.