Tag: holidays

Olympic Peninsula

Sometimes you just need a holiday.

We’ve been away for the last ten days or so, touring around the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state*. The main goal of the holiday was to get away, but reducing screen usage and getting some hiking in were important components too.

It’s a lovely place. We don’t often visit somewhere and feel like we could actually live there (much as we adored Italy…), but we were inspired by the liveability of the communities all along the eastern and northern edges of the peninsula. Even Victoria, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca in BC, felt comfortable, like a home we hadn’t before visited.

The thing which cast a shadow on the glory was smoke: forest fires surrounded us and the smoke was thick. Port Townsend was hazy, and Port Angeles was smoggy. Crossing on the ferry to Victoria, we could see basically nothing out of the windows until land finally became visible in the murk. Fortunately the air quality wasn’t unbearable, but that catch at the back of the throat was our constant companion for a good chunk of the trip.

Particular scenic highlights:

  • the lakes. We spent time by Lakes Cushman, Crescent and Quinault and they were all gorgeous. Cushman and Crescent especially had beautifully clear blue waters, with temperatures very conducive to bobbing around. I am sure that the vistas would have been stunning in clearer-aired times.
  • Port Townsend. It reminded me of St Ives with its luminousness, another artistically focussed seashore community in Cornwall.
  • Victoria. Not on the peninsula, but Canada is very close. Lovely people, fascinating history. We barely scratched the surface.
  • hiking through the forest. We did a hike most days we were there**, and the intense mossiness of the temperate rainforests is refreshing. I thought Portland was mossy…
  • Hurricane Ridge. We picked one of the clearer days to visit so we could at least see south into the smoke-wreathed mountains, but this is another spot I would want to hike more seriously when the air is clearer. Also, I now know what a marmot is.
  • Cape Flattery. The most northwesterly point of the contiguous states, Cape Flattery has spectacular views reached by a well-maintained trail. We also had the best tamales at the trailhead — they cheered us up enormously, and we talked about them most of the way along the hike.

Will we move to the peninsula? Doubtful. But will we go back?

Definitely.

[*] a qualification that always seems to be necessary.

[**] the one day we didn’t hike was when we did some kayaking.

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Fictional Festivals

Monday is a day off for many people. It’s Memorial Day in the US and Spring Bank Holiday in Britain, so I thought it might be fun to talk about high days and holy days in your fiction.

The frequency of holidays in the places I’ve lived is such that, on average, you get a non-weekend day off every six weeks or so (although there is significant clumping around certain times of year). If your story spans any significant amount of time it therefore seems likely that your characters will encounter holidays like that, although the precise nature of the days will necessarily vary by the culture.

In your fictional world, days off could be based on:

  • religious observance. Many days off in Britain are based on Christian holidays – Christmas, Easter, Whitsun (since replaced with the Spring Bank Holiday) – whereas in the US almost no holidays are religiously derived, the only example being Christmas.
  • national or cultural celebration days. The US has Independence Day, Canada has Canada Day, whereas Britain has… actually, nothing. Britain has no national day, and is in fact rare (if not unique) in that lack*. St Patrick’s Day is celebrated far more aggressively enthusiastically in the US than the any saint’s day is in Britain.
  • military remembrance – Veterans Day and Memorial Day in the US**, Remembrance Day in the UK.
  • familial respect. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Care-Giver’s Day, Divorced Step Parent’s Dog Day.
  • national figure anniversaries. Presidents Day in the US started off as Washington and Lincoln birthdays, and the Queen’s birthday*** is a day off for many civil servants in Britain.
  • calendar change – new years of every calendar seem to be celebrated.
  • weird local stuff. I still don’t understand the point of Groundhog Day, for example.

What are these imagined festivals useful for?

  • torturing your characters – make them work when no one else is; have them unable to purchase supplies because all the shops are closed; or just have them organise a party nobody comes to.
  • make the character opposed to the basis of the holiday, such as their religion differs from that of the mandated festival, or their religious calendar has a different new year than the culture they live in, or they are solar power advocates on Oil Burner’s Day.
  • sync calendars in different narratives. If you have multiple points of view, especially if they are widely separated by geography or time, having the characters all observe the same holiday helps connect together the stories.

If you have a holiday to look forward to, enjoy your time.

[*] well, apart from perhaps Bonfire Night aka Guy Fawkes Night, an evening of fireworks celebrating the aving of Parliament from a pernicious Catholic plot. There is occasional political posturing to celebrate Trafalgar Day, because the only thing likely to succeed in Britain more than a holiday about persecuting Catholics is one about beating the French.

[**] despite there already being two military remembrance days in the US, there are always calls to remember veterans on Independence Day as well. Come on, you’ve got two days already.

[**] her official birthday in June, anyway. Her actual birthday is in April.

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An Atheist At Christmas

I’m an atheist and have been for a long time, so why do I celebrate Christmas?

Well, I don’t celebrate the Christian part, but then I also feel like that’s the least significant element of this time of year. People have had mid-winter festivals since there were people: having a party in the middle of winter to lighten the otherwise depressing mood and mark the turn of the year is important. Indeed, the history of Christmas is that that it was moved to the middle of the northern winter* to coincide with existing mid-winter festivals (an effective approach repeated with other pagan festivals).

There are many parts of this time of year that are admirable: the family togetherness, the spirit of giving (whether to loved ones or to charity), and the feeling of community – these are all secular values worth celebrating. I don’t need to be Christian to join that celebration, and in those terms I consider Christmas to be a handy marker for when that communal celebration is going to happen.

And this use of the season as a marker reaches to the heart of why I celebrate Christmas: I grew up in a culture which celebrates Christmas on 25th December, and I live in a place where the same date is used for the festival. If I had grown up in Russia or Greece I might follow the Orthodox calendar for the day itself, or give gifts on Christmas Eve.

In other words, I celebrate at the culturally consonant time. If I invented another festival that would be fine*** but festivals are best when celebrated en masse – as un-tribal as I am, there’s a lot to be said for communal jollity. Just as Christmas colonised the winter festivals of the pagans, I choose to appropriate the elements of Christmas which fit the celebration I want to have.

And so the Christmas lasagne**** is ready to be cooked, and the Chocolate Elf has made his last visit of the season, and we gear up to deal with our families in whatever way is appropriate.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

[*] I am sure that if the world’s most aggressive cultural exporters had been from the southern hemisphere, then Christmas would be in June**.

[**] or whatever calendrial artifact would contain the southern winter solstice.

[***] Festivus, anyone?

[****] which is so much less work on the day than turkey!

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