Thursday, December 10, 2009

Alien Holidays

Something that often doesn't happen in science fiction is holidays, yet most of us arrange our lives around major times when you do certain things partly because you've always done them and partly because that's what people do at that time of year. It gets really weird when something like Christmas, which blends a whole bunch of winter solstice festival traditions into the Christian message, and has since kind of spilled out into a month or so that encompasses a bunch of things that are mostly based on the pagan festivals... Er, where was I? Oh, yeah.

It gets really weird when Christmas, in its form as a predominantly northern hemisphere winter festival, gets transplanted more or less intact to the southern hemisphere, with all the midwinter traditional trappings attached. Of course, that's exactly what I grew up with, so I never saw anything odd about fake pine trees and fake snow or the big fat guy in the red suit with all the fur everywhere being right in the middle of summer. In fact, since I moved to the US, I've been consistently weirded out, every year, by the novelty of Christmas in winter.

Then there's the holidays I simply don't 'get' because they were never part of the Australian tradition, like Thanksgiving, and the ones I miss because they're not part of the US tradition.

Now imagine all those traditions on a space station with no seasons at all. Or a planet where the year just plain doesn't match our calendar. How weird is that going to get? (Hint: 'very'). How about praying to Mecca when the direction you'd need to face would put have you kneeling on the wall? (Okay, not so hard if there's no gravity, but the prayer mat would have to be stuck on, then moved each time because the relative positions would keep changing)

Of course, people will adapt. They'll adjust their traditions a bit, put Santa in red board shorts and thongs (the footwear. The thought of a big fat guy in thong underwear is just...EW), and the absurdities of singing about snow and ice and all when it's hot enough to cook eggs on the pavement just won't occur to them because that's how it's always been. Maybe some of the people will have scales and be a bit bewildered about the way these soft-skinned mammals do things, but hey, it's kind of fun anyway, and we can get drunk on their booze and they get drunk on ours, so let's party! (This does rather assume that the aliens in question met a group of Australian or similarly-minded explorers, whose sole criteria for 'is people' is 'shares the booze').

Or maybe it will go the other way, and people will jealously guard their traditions and refuse to change one iota no matter what. I'm not sure I know anyone who's that rigid, but it's happened in the past, so it can certainly happen again. Actually, my money (and I come from a land where they'll cheerfully bet on two flies crawling up a wall) is on 'yes', and 'everything in between'. One thing history tells you, quite loudly if you don't stick your fingers in your ears and go 'neener neener neener I'm not listening' is that if it can be done, it will be done, usually with some kind of sexual fetish attached.

What do you think future holidays will be like? The only answer I don't think is legit is that they won't exist. They will, because marking certain times as "special" is part of how we personally distinguish the passage of time. It's never 'four Novembers back', it's 'Thanksgiving four years ago'.


John Lambshead said...

As far as I am concerned an alien holiday involves visiting my relatives in Cornwall. Wierd doesn't even begin to describe it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a born-again, fundamentalist Cristmasian. By golly, Santa is fully dressed, when he's on duty!

Hmm, I suppose on colony planets things like Independence Day will get rolled into "Discovery Day" or some such. And if there's farming, some sort of post-harvest celebration seems logical. "Christmas" specifically will probably depend on the colonists. But some excuse for one big party a year is sure to come up.

And Alien Holidays, well, when it comes to Holidays, I like to be inclusive. ;) But if you've got a whole bunch of different kinds of aliens, it could be difficult to get anything done.

C Kelsey said...

My aliens will eventually end up celebrating "Pants Day". ;)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

What I find strange are customs like getting so emotional involved with a football team that their win or loss can make or break your week end.

Very strange.

But then, we humans are very strange.

Kate said...


I feel your pain. Over the last few years I've come to the conclusion that I'm actually the sane one in my family.

Kate said...


I suspect for reasons of practicality the days off work will get rolled together so things don't go completely off the rails. That or official holidays will have nothing to do with anyone's traditions ;)

Except that there's sure to be at least one excuse for a mega-party - as you say.

Kate said...


Will this involve putting them on, or taking them off? And do I really want to know the answer to that question?

Kate said...


There were times when I never needed to watch - or check the news - to find out the result of cricket or football games. I'd hear the neighbors celebrating if "our" team won. A big win could turn into a street party, with enough alcoholic facilitation.

And yes, we humans are weird. I think we sort of adopt sports teams as our 'tribal champions' or something - which leads to the intriguing question of what inter-species sports could look like. "Yeah, so he's a talking lizard with bad breath. He's still the best player on the team."

C Kelsey said...


Not sure I actually want to know the answer to that question either. I'm assuming it's merely a celebration of the invention of pants. :)

RE Sports... It's the communal aspect I think. When "our" team wins we're happy and we celebrate together. When they loose, we kvetch together. We humans are social to the point of detriment sometimes.

Mike said...

Holidays? Well, an interesting point for comparison is to look at the Japanese holidays. I probably don't need to go through all of them, but there are some interesting groups of holidays.

First, we've got some time of the year holidays. New Years is a big one, with several days ahead and after usually set aside. At the very least, you are likely to spend New Year's day with family, and perhaps the 2nd and 3rd visiting friends. But we also celebrate the spring equinox and the autumn equinox.

There are also several holidays devoted to age groups. The second Monday in January is for 20-year-olds who are coming of age, but May 5 Is Children's Day, and the third Monday in September is Respect for the Aged.

Some of the older holidays that are still celebrated probably include the doll's festival or girls day on March 3, the Star Festival on August 7, and shichigosan on November 15. Shichigosan is three Japanese words for seven, five, three -- and is literally a celebration for three-year-olds, five-year-olds, and seven-year-olds.

I should also include obon in the older holidays. This is celebrated from August 13-15. On August 13, the ghosts of the dead return to Earth, and spend the next couple of days visiting, before returning to death on August 15. And this is also a good time for village festivals and dancing.

There are a slew of national holidays. February 11 starts it off, with National Foundation Day, which is supposed to be the day that the first Emperor took the throne. April 29 is next with Showa day, the Showa Emperor's birthday. May 3 is Constitution Day, while May 4 is Greenery Day (supposedly a celebration of one of the Emperor's interest in greenery, and it makes three holidays in a row for what is widely known as Golden Week -- when Japan shuts down for a week long holiday). The third Monday in July is Ocean day, the second Monday in October is health and sports day, and November 3 is culture day. November 23 is Labor Thanksgiving Day. And then December 23 is the Emperor's birthday.

Japan also has some imports. Right now we're getting ready for Christmas, which means illumination shows everywhere, plenty of shopping, Christmas cakes on order, and so on. Heck, I'm going to be playing Santa Claus for a couple of places.

We also have Valentine's Day on February 14 when men give chocolates to women, followed by White Day on March 14 when women give chocolates to men.

Whew. And you thought Japan was all work? There's a bunch of holidays, with various roots. And with gifts and economics built up around most of them, they aren't going to go away anytime soon.

Which reminds me -- Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! We've already sent out something like 120 holiday cards, and the exchange of holiday gifts of various kinds is busily underway. I hope yours is a happy holiday, no matter what you celebrate.

'nother Mike