Saturday, December 3, 2016

Worldbuilding: The Rhythm of the Year

  This time of year can be tough for my family for reasons that will seem a little odd to most people.
  It is because of the calendar.
  You see, to us it is not the Christmas Season, it is Advent. We don't put up ornaments or lights or a tree until December 24th. Then we go to the Vigil Mass for Christmas. Then the Christmas season starts and we celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas until Epiphany, then we take down the tree but leave up the lights until the Christmas season ends with Candlemas on February 2nd. I finally take down the lights on February 3rd.
  Why?
  We're Catholics with traditions from the Old World.
  In the liturgical calendar the beginning of the new year (for the Church) is the beginning of Advent. Advent begins on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew's Day (November 30th) which is the 4th Sunday before Christmas, of course. Advent is traditionally a time of penance and fasting in preparation for Christmas, almost a sad time as we reflect on why Christ had to manifest. Once Christmas actually arrives then we celebrate, decorate, and play Christmas music.
  Why is this hard? Look around! For almost everyone else the Christmas music starts the afternoon of Thanksgiving, the tree and lights go up the weekend of Thanksgiving. The music stops on December 26th and the tree and lights come down around New Year's, if not before.

  No, this is not about me telling you that you are doing Christmas wrong. You aren't. You just have a different calendar.

  Jews, Muslims, Hindus - all have different calendars, too. There is a Zoroastrian calendar, there are various Hindu, Japanese, Iranian, African, etc. calendars. For a decade or so the Soviet Union had their own calendar, too.

  "Gee, Rick," you say, "You already wrote about public religion!"
  Yes, but I mentioned that calendars are pretty important, so here we are!
  Besides, calendars don't have to be religious (i.e., the Soviet calendar, mentioned before). But they do impact how we think and act about what we are doing and when.
  Here is an example that I have mentioned before - in the Catholic Church there are traditionally up to 153 days where you cannot eat beef, pork, poultry, or game so for almost half the year they rely upon fish and seafood for protein. Protestants that used the same calendar had few, if any, fast days. The result? Thriving trade in seafood in Catholic nations and nothing similar in Protestant nations.
  The days in which people rest from labor vary, too, with Friday, Saturday, and Sunday being most common in the contemporary world. This can lead to confusion in larger cities with some shops being closed on some days while others, who hire people from various calendars, are always open.
  Why do so many Western women marry in June? In the Catholic calendar it is the first month of the year that you can be certain will not have fasts or major festivals interfering with your wedding and celebration. These small calendar things can have huge repercussions for long periods.

  Or think of something more familiar to Americans - the Fourth of July. No religious elements, yet hugely influential on commerce and travel. People schedule family reunions around the date; stores focuse Summer sales on the things associated with the date; the majority of fireworks sold in the nation are sold in relation to the day. This festival affects the music on the radio, what people wear, and how much money fast food joints make.

  Another example are the town market fairs.
  [Work with me, here].
  The economic life of many towns revolved around their markets where people came to buy and sell all sorts of things. Some towns (the town leaders, the local lord, the local abbot, the local bishops, etc.) would set up a special market day, usually around the feast day of the patron saint of the town. These market fairs would have a number of incentives, especially reduced fees on entering and leaving the market. The number of towns allowed to hold markets was controlled, so these fairs grew in importance over time.
  In France a series of six towns happened to share a few characteristics: they were permitted to have fiars; their fair dates were distributed through the year; they were on good roads. Merchants could start in Bar-sur-Aube in January and work their way through the towns fairs until November. The fairs, called the Champagne Fairs, became important enough that trade from Italy came in large caravans over the Alps and merchants from as far as North Africa were a common sight in northern France in the 12th Century.
  These otherwise fairly obscure towns became part of the Champagne Fair Circuit because of the dates of their fairs!
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  In my campaigns I always make calendars. My AD&D 1e campaign has a year of exactly 364 days and the regional calendar is 13 months of 28 days. There are three moons on regular cycles that are plotted out and marked. The elves have the same calendar with different names while the dwarves have a solar calendar that is radically different. The main differences are local, regional, and racial festivals.
  In Rolemaster I have a rather messed up calendar of 420 days with 5 moons, only three of which have regular cycles. There are five different calendars widely used and about 6 more used enough to be encountered. In one case the party hd to track down a scholar to decipher a date found in an ancient book. Differences in calendars are huge and can make trade difficult.

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  In play this can be color and background or a plot point or a roleplaying tool. The party can only get employment with caravans during fair season; the party can't enter the city for three days because the gates remain closed for the Ritual of Cleansing; prices just tripled at the taverns and inns because the cloth and dye fair is going on; it is unlucky to set out on a journey on a Fiveday, so the henchmen want to set out in the morning; you name it.

  Next time you are trying to find a day and time your entire group can meet and play, think about the calendar in your world and how it affects fictional life.