Monday, 15 June 2015

Festival

The core notion of festivals over time has been The Feast. Contemporary music gatherings may have lost that amongst the mud and tents and face-paints, but I'd like to bring us back to that concept.

If you really want to make a friend, go to someone's house and eat with him... the people who give you their food give you their heart.
Cesar Chavez

Sharing food has been at the heart of human celebrations for centuries.  On Orkney, there are hearths inside the Standing Stones o'Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar which are over 5000 years old. We cannot be sure if these were used for communal feasting, but the scale and location suggest they may have been.

Stenness, Orkney by K. M. Lockwood CC
In many religious communities, distinct foods belong to specific festivals.  At the end of the Ramadan fast, Eid-ul-fitr, Moslems will often have dates . Osnei haman (literallly, Haman's Ears) are made for the Jewish Purim and Hot Cross Buns for Christian Good Friday. Such traditional fare is often a sweet treat!

Homemade Humentashin by Ahoova CC

Festive customs may mean different kinds of cooking and eating. Polynesian nations like Hawaii use an underground oven or imu to cook for hundreds of guests at a luau. Everyone uses their fingers and sits on matting. Anyone invited is accounted family or 'ohana . Note too the Norman-English word 'companion' is derived from sharing bread - pain in Modern French.

There can be fun and games too - hiding lucky items is not confined to silver sixpences in the Christmas pudding. Chinese people sometimes put a white thread for longevity or a copper coin for wealth inside New Year Dumplings 饺子 Jiǎozi (pronounced 'jyaoww-dzrr').

Chinese New Year Dumplings by Shella CC
Traditional wedding cakes in Argentina have ribbons coming out of them. Each is tied to a small trinket each with a meaning - including a tiny ring. Before the cake is cut, guests pull at the ribbons, and whoever gets the ring will get married next, or so they say.

Every sort of festival, whether ancient or contemporary, has its rituals of joy. These can be solemn or frivolous - but food and togetherness go hand-in-hand.

Robert Louis Stevenson at a Royal Luau in 1889 Wikimedia
Some suggestions for you
  • Contrast two scenes: one of famine and one of feast. The lack of food could be imposed through poverty, theft, incompetence - or chosen because of tradition, belief, self-sacrifice. How do your characters react? What will they do when there is abundance?
  • Let rip with the sensual detail. Use the preparations to convey how they feel - do they embrace the coming festivities? Are they nervous or shy? Might the actual event change their minds - or reinforce their attitude? Does anyone go wild - or bottle out?
  • Try a variety of scales - a wedding banquet throughout the realm - or a picnic for two on the balcony of a flat.

 If you have imagination... you can make feast of straw.
Jane S. Hitchcock


2 comments:

  1. Great post! I've always loved the feasting scenes in stories, especially if they come after a time of great danger and difficulty in the protag's journey. There is something very safe in sharing in the character's sustenance :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Nancy . It can make a great round-up scene at the end . Which I'd put that in the article!

    ReplyDelete

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