One quick way to add a sense of depth to a fantasy culture is to come up with a number of holidays that they celebrate throughout the course of a year. Developing fantastical holidays is fairly simple and is simply a matter of figuring out what is being celebrated, and how it is being celebrated.
What is being celebrated:
Most holidays celebrate an event of major importance for a culture. These can be cyclically occuring events such as the start of spring, the completion of the harvest, or the beginning of a new year. Many holidays also celebrate the anniversary of an important event that occurred during the culture's past. Such events might include the birth or death of a king or religious figure (e.g. Christmas and Good Friday), the founding of a nation and/or a great military victory, the completion of a major cultural project, or simply be a symbolic gesture not tied to an historic date, but honoring something the culture deems important (e.g. Memorial day or Pi day).
In general terms, the events deemed worth celebrating most often relate to survival, religion or politics or some combination of the three.
Some examples of celebration-worthy events in a typical high fantasy world might include:
- The ascension of a great hero to divine status.
- The arrival of an annual migrating food source.
- The anniversary of the defeat of a horrible monster.
- The mystical alignment of the planes which refills the source of magic in the world.
How it is celebrated:
The events that take place on a holiday often relate in some way to the subject of the celebration. Harvest celebrations are often celebrated with feasting, religious events include services, pilgrimages and/or sacrifices to the pertinent Gods. Politically affiliated holidays often include some display of generosity by the ruler, parades or other manifestations of national identity.
Some examples ways a fantasy culture might celebrate
- Sacrifice animals or people to ensure an annual flight of dragons passes over the realm without incident.
- The wizard's guild launches a magical light show to celebrate the birthday of their founding.
- The seafaring tribes roast the largest animal caught during the summer kraken harvest.
- Worshippers of the Sun God stand vigil through the longest night of the year to ensure that their deity will return.
Incorporating one or two such celebrations into a fantasy novel or game world culture can add flavor and depth to your world, and can offer up opportunities for story development -what happens if the Sun God doesn't return?
Perhaps my most successful inclusion of a holiday in my own game world was when my players defeated a vampire who planned to ruin the summer solstice celebration by opening a massive portal to the plane of shadow thus covering the land in perpetual darkness. In this case, a typical celestial religious observance expanded into something greater when I asked, how would other religions get in on the act? I decided that the followers of the god of rogues, revelry and mischief (think Bacchus or Loki) would launch a sort of trick-or-treat by raiding the households of their neighbors. In hopes of preventing the loss of true valuables, the neighbors would hang their small clothes out their windows hoping the raiders would take those instead.
Anyway, in my game, my players were just leaving the vampire's lair with a massive pile of loot when this celebration was beginning. They ended up as the toast of the rogues' district.