Fantasy feasts and festivals

With Christmas fast approaching, I’ve been thinking about feasts and festivals. Our own calendars are littered with ‘holidays’ whether they are based on the country we live in, the religion we follow or our own esoteric view of the world (I personally celebrate my half birthday every year). Feasts and festivals are a huge part of culture and society and so will naturally appear in fantasy settings. To help inspire GMs in their next roleplaying adventure, I have put together a list of different reasons for festivities in fantasy settings along with ways that theses festivals might be celebrated:
Religious festivals
Most religious festivals are based around the birth, death or actions of a religious figure. Who these figures are and what they have done to warrant festivals will be down to the setting in which you are playing.
If your setting doesn’t have an existing pantheon of gods or if this festival takes place in a far flung corner of the world where people follow religions different to those of the PCs, you may want to create something new (or create something quickly) in which case the below list of common types of god will help.
You will need to make up your mind as to whether the gods of this religion are distant and separate from the world or play a more active role in what happens to their followers. Regardless of this, deities tend to fall into a number of different archetypes. Below I have listed a few to get you started:
The mother / creator
The father / overseer
Gods of children
Gods of fertility
Gods of light / fire / the sun
Gods of the moon / other celestial objects
Gods of animals / all living things
Gods of love
Gods of life / health
Gods of farming / plants
Gods of war
Gods of peace
Gods of death
Gods of the sea / water
Gods of the winds / sky
Gods of knowledge / intelligence
Gods of happiness and joy
Gods of sadness / pain / suffering
Gods of food and drink
Gods of lies / tricks / cheats
Gods of justice
Gods of sleep / dreams
Gods of stupidity / foolishness
Gods of strength
Gods of art / crafts
Gods of luck / chance
In terms of archetypes, any aspect of life that is particularly important to the people of a society is likely to have a deity attached. The more important the aspect, the more prominent the god. For instance, if a culture is heavily reliant on apple trees for survival, there may be a specific god of apples or the apple tree. For cultures that are less reliant on the apple tree, it is more likely that a god of food or plants or the natural world will suffice.
Social and cultural festivals
Social and cultural festivals are those that aren’t tied to a specific religion or deity. Instead they celebrate life and the experiences of the living. This may be in the form of celebrations marking the changing of the seasons or celebrating historical figures and their accomplishments.
These celebrations are a bit wider ranging and will depend heavily on the setting in which you are playing. Think about the history of your world and what major events are likely to be commemorated with festivals and how these festivals would be celebrated. To give you some ideas, here are some common reasons for social and cultural festivals:
New year / month / week / New beginnings
Lunar activity (new moon / full moon / multiple moons)
Solar activity (Solstice / long nights / long days)
Historical commemorations
Family celebrations
Celebrating / commemorating the dead
Fertility festivals
Celebrating the sun
Celebrating the planets / planetary activity
Merry making
Augers / Omens / Groundhog day
Sporting events
Celebrating cultures / countries / races
Minority groups in societies and cultures will often bring their own festivals to new lands / cultures. The indigenous cultures may then adopt the celebration in a wider sense (St Patricks Day isn’t just celebrated by the Irish or those of Irish descent).
What happens at a festival?
There are an almost infinite number of ways to celebrate a festival and I’m afraid that once again it will depend a lot on the setting in which you are playing. It is worth remembering that if people are celebrating a specific deity or event, the way they celebrate will often be related to that deity or that event. However, it is also worth remembering that festivities are meant to be therapeutic and cathartic. Maybe not for the whole population, but for those celebrating it should. With that in mind, here are some ways that people might celebrate a festival:
Giving gifts to each other
Giving gifts to the gods / sacrifices
Prayer / meditation / thoughtfulness
Singing / Dancing
Eating a specific food
Drinking a specific drink
Eating and drinking / feasting / cooking
Wearing specific clothes
Spending time with loved ones
Spending time in a specific place
Spending time ‘amongst nature’
Staying awake / going to sleep
Telling stories
Lighting fires / candles / fireworks
Drawing / painting / creating artworks
Playing music
Breaking / smashing things
Holidays from work / resting
Competitions / sports / activities
People switching jobs / class (ie the servants becoming the master)
Magic usage
Avoidance of magic
Hopefully you found these lists useful and you’ve come up with some great ideas for festivals in your own tabletop roleplaying game. If you’d like to share them, feel free to visit the Iron Crown Enterprises forum and let us know what you came up with.