Like everyone knows, Valentine’s Day is very much a manufactured celebration. There’s a historical background, but the modern way is just an attempt to sell more crap. Once again. The thing is, this is actually anything new. All holidays and celebrations are manufactured. They didn’t come from nothing. Certainly, some days, like various independence days all over the world, are better motivated then various random others, but it still wasn’t written in the stars and we know that religious celebrations are very arbitrary, like the traditional hijacking of pagan holidays by the Christians.
The question here is, how do you use them in your RPGs.
Many celebrations are kind of weird, sometimes in a wonderful way, sometimes in a sick and twisted way. Think about our Finnish Easter. We have the international tradition of seeking for chocolate eggs hidden allegedly by a rabbit for some reason, but we also have a tradition of children masquerading as witches in order to beg for candy, pretty much like the Halloween in the US. All this supposedly because someone died as a part of some convoluted plan to save us from our sins.
On the more sick side, I don’t remember the names of these festivals, but there’s a muslim tradition in some places where on a specific day of the year, babies are dropped from a tower and caught in a huge sheet. There’s awful mishaps every year, but that hasn’t stopped it. There’s another, similar celebration in some parts of Spain, where babies are laid out in rows and people jump over them. I don’t know how dangerous this is, but I bet there’s plenty of accidents.
And it doesn’t stop there. There’s Running of the Bulls, Dia de Muertos, Rouketopolemos, the Thaipusum Festival, Monkey Buffet Festival (which is exactly what it sounds like), and bunch of others.
The point is to bring color to the world. OF course it would be better if the celebration could be integrated into the story, but I don’t think that’s necessary. People getting ready for whatever festival has always been a good setting in fiction, although probably often a bad one (think of all the poor Christmas movies out there).
To make these things more memorable, it would be good to have some event, which lets the characters do something instead of just walking around aimlessly. On the other hand, if that event is something all the players can’t participate in, the event can’t take center stage, or some players will be forced out.
Of course, these kinds of events, if done properly, can be a scenario on their own and with characters designed for that purpose, they can be great. There’s an old RQ3 adventure called Garhound Contests, which is for bachelors trying to win the hand of a maiden in a series of contests. I’ve ran it as part of a campaign a couple of times, but with proper planning, it is a great, not very serious one shot on its own.
Of course, it would be nice to tell the players there’s going to be poetry contest beforehand.