Election Day

There’s two things I don’t talk about on my blog or on Twitter: politics and religion.  Not because I don’t have opinions, in fact I wear them quite openly on my sleeve in real life.  But just…because.  There are debates I don’t want to sidetrack either by getting into.  However, I don’t think it’s political to say that today is election day here in the United States, and while it’s only local office elections, there are still important issues to decide.  It’s your right and your privilege.  Go do it.

Now.  Watch as I take that and turn this into a writing related post.

There are several bizarre and arbitrary dates on the calendar.   Thanksgiving was originally the last Thursday in November, but was bumped up to the fourth Thursday (though that’s often the same) to extend the Christmas shopping season.  Washington’s Birthday never, by the way its definition, falls on his birthday.  And has become Presidents Day largely due to the chronological coincidence of Lincoln’s birthday.  But perhaps the oddest bit of jiggery pokery on the calendar is Election Day in the United States.

One thing I learned during my brief blogging adventure into the lead-up to the war of 1812 is that the modern concept of Election Day is just that.  Rather modern.  Elections had to take place by a certain date, but they didn’t have to take place on a certain date.  When things were finally codified, Election Day was defined as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  There’s three oddities in here that bear explaining:

First Tuesday.  The United States is unique in the world for voting on Tuesdays.  The day was chosen to mesh with a more agrarian society, a more rural society, and a more religious society.  Tuesday was well free of the sabbath days of the two major faiths, allowing residents who needed time to travel to their polling sites to do so, while also not interfering with Wednesday markets that took place in several towns.

After the first Monday.  This is basically to say “Election day can’t fall on the first.”  In part because the first of November is a holiday in Christian traditions, All Saints Day, which was observed more devoutly in the early periods of the United States.  But also because businesses tended to balance their books on the last of the month, and Congress didn’t want grumpy business men fresh off balancing books the night before voting raw emotions.  Best to give them a day to cool off.

In November.  Again, agrarian rural society.  November was after the harvest but before Northern states started getting really bad snowfalls.  It was seen as a month that would maximize participation.

So three quirks, all that have a perfectly logical reasoning behind them, combine to form one of the longest definitions on the American calendar.  But I promised I’d tie everything back into writing.  So what is my loose connection?

World building.

When building a calendar with holidays and observances for a world, keep in mind that weird quirks work their way into calendars.  Most American holidays have been shifted around to fall on Mondays, in spite of the actual date being remembered, to create long weekends rather than interrupted weeks.  Most countries celebrate the birth of either their first and/or current leader.  Sometimes it’s rather arbitrary, as the various realms of the Commonwealth celebrate the Queen’s Birthday on various and sundry days, none of which have anything to do when Elizabeth II was actually born.  The date of holidays don’t need to make immediate external sense, but they do need to have an internal logic.  Even if that logic is never explored in the book, it’s something the writer should know about the society.

So there you go, my roundabout way of turning Election Day into a thought on the writing process.  Convoluted?  Sure.  But convoluted is what I do best.

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  1. avatar

    #1 by Simon Oliver Lockwood on November 8, 2011 - 4:38 pm

    What’s your take on stories based on other planets with different rotation / revolution periods? Would you have the characters refer to planetary days & years as distinct from T(erran)-Years ala David Weber, or just use Terran units e.g. counting things in hours and maybe “standard days?”

    • avatar

      #2 by DLThurston on November 8, 2011 - 4:47 pm

      I’m actually working through that in a story set on Venus, which has days nearly as long as an earth year. And I’ve yet to come up with any good solution for that story.

      Terran days make sense on a spaceship out from earth, but I imagine they would be just awkward on a planet that has a day/night cycle even within 50% of earth’s. But then it helps to have a standard for everyone to work from and…well, I’m doing this comment stream of conscious style and not coming up with anything but a headache.

      Would probably end up with some weird duality where someone was keeping track of what day/time it was back on earth (probably GMT with no DST) but everyone was operating based on the planet’s day/night cycle.

      So…I guess I’ve just avoided it so far, and will likely continue to do so, and it’s not something I’ve read a lot of stories that tackle the problem.

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