Nature vs. Nurture in Societal Rituals

A smear of riotous color stains the train windows as we race through an autumn forest. Piles of pumpkins await families to transform them into pies or jack-o-lanterns. Local festivals and county fairs dot the calendar, jostling for position and attention. School buses delay morning commutes as children return to the daily school grind. I think the last hummingbird has finally left for the winter.

Photo by aiko99ann
via Wikimedia Commons
It's September. Regardless of the summerlike conditions forecast for this weekend, it feels like September in New England. All the annual rituals of the tail end of harvest and the beginning of the academic year signal the coming of winter.

We like to think we're moving past seasonal cycles and into a homogenized year-round work cycle, but we're still mainly an agrarian-based society. Schools gave summers off so the children could help grow and harvest the crops. And since school is out, many workers take vacations over the summer to be with their families.

And why do crops grow in the summer? The environment. I'm on a piece of land at a latitude that enjoys 4 distinct seasons: Planting, Growing, Harvest, and Hibernation. Seasons dictate growing cycles. Growing cycles dictate work cycles. Work cycles inform the rituals of celebrations and holidays. Annual celebrations provide order. Order builds society. Therefore...

The Environment Creates Society.

What if we start with people imposing their will on the environment? What kind of society follows?
Let's colonize Mercury! (Uh... No?)
Image via Wikimedia Commons

What if the environment doesn't have natural cycles? What if you have a colony ship crash-landing on a tidelocked barren rock that doesn't even have a day/night cycle? In a few generations when people forget the homeworld's rituals, what rituals evolve that aid in society's survival? How do you measure the passing of time? Do people even celebrate birthdays since it's hard to measure a year? What events or cycles do they celebrate, and how do they know when to celebrate?

Society is the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community. Without environmental pressures, where does order come from? Given the libraries filled with laws that we have, the Judicial branch of government, and the plethora of lawyers who all seem to be doing quite well for themselves, the answer seems clear. People impose order on themselves. And so...

People Create Society.

While both approaches are true and valid, which do you favor when worldbuilding?

What do local rituals tell you about the environment? Does that environment exist any more, or is the ritual a throwback to an earlier time? What environmental cycles impact life, and how do the locals prepare for and mark those cycles?

Pig racing at Spencer Fair. Arbitrary?
Photo by John Phelan
via Wikimedia Commons
Are any festivals arbitrary? What rituals have the people imposed on themselves in the quest to improve society? Have those rituals forced any changes in the environment?

For example, let's say local druids gather and create an annual festival of healing. Anyone who comes can get free healing, no questions asked. Broken bones are knit, diseases are treated, animals are cured of infection. Do the animals learn to come back year after year? Are migration patterns changed because of the yearly festival of healing? Do farmers need to prepare for the influx of animals and set aside crops for animal feed to prevent them clear-cutting crops and leaving the entire area barren?

What funky rituals exist in your world? Are they mainly environmental or man-made?

Thanks for reading!

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