Happy Holidays! I love holidays in game and genuinely look forward to participating. Now that Children's Week has ended and we've had a bit of a breather, I've been thinking about celebrations in Azeroth: who has them, when, and why? I made a list (I love lists!!) to compare WoW holidays to the calendars of some countries that play. To explain my methodology: I first recorded national holidays that are typical work holidays. Then I did some searching for recognized cultural holidays that don't merit a day off (although I'm afraid I'm missing some I don't know about). For Azeroth holidays, I recorded all in-game events as well as some mentioned in books or player guides.
Check out the spreadsheet here.
Not included are two holidays mentioned on Wowpedia: Hordefall (the anniversary of the end of the 2nd war - what month was this?) and a Kodo Drum Circle (this celebrates all animals sacrificed for Tauren good during the year; I assume it would be held at the end of the year, but would that be the end of fall or before spring?). I left out the Kodo Run entirely because it appears to be more an event than a holiday.
There are four types of holidays, ignoring Wikipedia's unecessary 5th category "Northern Hemisphere winter holidays." They are religious, national, secular, and unofficial holidays. Looking at the earthly events above, you can probably categorize all of the holidays listed. I have tried to place the WoW holidays into one of the four categories; please comment if you think I have mislabeled one!
Religious: Dance of the Earthmother, Renewal of the Sun, Kodo Drum Circle
National: Engineer's Explosive Extravaganza (now Fireworks Spectacular), Hordefall, Lunar Festival, Harvest Festival, Hallow's End
Secular: Kosh'harg festival, New Year, Love is in the Air, Noblegarden, Children's Week, Pilgrim's Bounty, Midsummer Fire Festival, Winter Veil, Peon Day, Festival of the Lake
Unofficial: Pirates' Day
And now for a general overview of the earth nations' holidays:
USA: 12 national holidays recognizing milestones and influential people in the nation's development, veterans, and memorials for major events.
8 secular holidays for events celebrated internationally
8 religious holidays, mostly from Christianity and Judaism
9 unofficial holidays including everything from appropriated religious or international holidays to major sporting events to unique inventions like Black Friday and Groundhog Day
UK: 8 national holidays, many of them bank holidays rather than commemorating events
4 secular holidays marking year end and honoring parental units
5 religious holidays for Christianity
Australia: 4 national holidays recognizing important the nation's people and dates
8 secular holidays for international events, sports, and sweet reasons like hanging with your family
6 religious holidays focusing mostly on Easter
China: 5 national holidays for historical events and honoring veterans
13 secular holidays, many of which are traditional celebrations based on an old calendar and the seasons
2 religious holidays from Buddhism, focusing on ancestor worship
Korea: 7 national holidays for major national events, including the creation of unique written language
10 secular holidays, like China, many are from traditional celebrations and focus on seasonal change
2 religious holidays, both of them birthdays
Mexico: 17 national holidays, an impressive amount featuring important people, battles, and governmental changes
9 secular holidays, many of which honor specific types of people
6 religious holidays from Christianity, Catholicism in particular
Of the holidays Blizzard appropriated for Azeroth, they have for the most part removed the religious significance from all of them in favor of finding other reasons to celebrate. For instance, Noblegarden is merely an event where generous human nobles hide eggs and gifts for others, and is not modeled on the resurrection of any Azerothian deity. Winter Veil references Father Winter (Hodir?) and a non-religious explanation for the changing of the seasons, but does not celebrate any deity birthdays. The only true religious events are tauren celebrations in honor of the Earthmother.
Secular and national holidays
There are secular holidays for veterans and war memorials, similar to the earth nations' penchant for honoring the same. These are the Lunar Festival, the Harvest Festival, and in the Forsaken's case, Hallow's End. The first two are particularly interesting, given that their earthly counterparts are for the lunar new year and Halloween, neither of which serve as memorials. The Harvest Festival is just poorly named, especially given that Azeroth already has two actual harvest festivals: Brewfest and Pilgrim's Bounty. Curiously, only the fireworks on July 4th are directly a result of the USian Independence Day, although loosely explained as part of the concurrent Midsummer Fire Festival and a redefining of the original Engineer's Explosive Extravaganza. No other WoW-playing nation has had a national holiday adapted for Azeroth, and no Azeroth nation celebrates an in-game victory or independence day. The Hordefall event is the closest that comes to this, and is only mentioned in a novel.
Other interesting holidays
Love is in the Air is particularly interesting in that it's origins in Azeroth are traced entirely to the Crown Chemical Company scheming with the Venture Co. goblins. This is Azeroth's "Hallmark holiday": there is literally nothing to it but some evil apothecaries fabricating a reason for everyone to smother themselves in harmful chemicals, encouraged by the money-grubbing Venture Co. Still, the gambit has been adopted by all the playable races of Azeroth. Pirate's Day is an interesting unofficial holiday, in that it is only celebrated in Booty Bay, and for a short time at that. This is a blatant reference to the earthly Talk Like a Pirate Day, provides only one achievement, and has no purpose other than extensive pirate jokes. Peon Day is a meta holiday created in celebration of the culmination of the European closed beta testing, and has been given a cute in-game story about peons and peasants finishing their work 4 minutes before the end of the day.
How long are holidays?
In general, Earth holidays tend to be limited to one actual day of celebration, with increasing excitement in the weeks preceding the event. In my experience this is mostly for commercial activity promoting holiday food, decorations, clothing, or gifts, but I've also spent this time attending gatherings in the spirit of the holiday. Some holidays, like the USian Thanksgiving, become an extended set of days, with the main holiday's celebration extended over multiple days. Still, although it is "Thanksgiving weekend," the actual day of Thanksgiving is one day long, and the rest simply bonus days.
Azerothian holidays, by comparison, are mostly clusters of celebration without a single distinguished day. Events like Love is in the Air, Harvest Festival, and Brewfest just exist for a week and then end without a "peak" day or event. Winter Veil does have such a culmination around December 25, but even that lasts for several days so players can find time to log in and collect their presents. This length is mostly for meta time and accessibility reasons, but it also suggests something about how Azerothians approach celebrations. Rather than a gradual buildup of expectations for one official day, they set aside multiple days to gather, feast, and make merry. Life in Azeroth is likely much more slow-paced than on Earth, seeing as they don't have useful inventions like computers or twitter. I could see longer holidays either being a period many are able to take off and relax for, or an opportunity for the hardworking to find a day or two to participate. For players, this means we get multiple chances to participate, and at least in my case, an in-game reflection of the festive buildup to the real life event.
A day off
As far as earthly holidays go, work holidays are given for national holidays. Some nations recognize religious holidays as well, but for the most part cultural holidays like St. Patrick's Day or Halloween are simply observed after work or school. In Azeroth, we typically play as heroes, who may go adventuring as time allows, but probably don't stick to a strict 9-5 schedule. Assuming they have no current "mission" it should be easy for our heroes to make time for celebrating. Then again, since some of the holidays have quest lines that require heroes, our characters may end up working through the celebrations! Holidays that are situated in smaller towns rather than capital cities may be more of a hassle than a blessing for our characters, since it takes them out of central activity hubs. Should they need to manage their trading or make use of convenient portals, they will first need to get back to a major city.
For working NPCs, some feastdays might reward days off. Although the holidays a generally slated to run for a week or more, I imagine that NPCs likely get only a few days off at most. Basically all settlements in WoW reflect holidays, so small-town residents would not have to travel far to join in the merrymaking. They would be more focused on food and fun rather than adventuring, and wouldn't need to travel to other cities in search of quests. However, it's also likely that they wouldn't travel for events happening in faraway cities, so anything exclusive to Booty Bay, Orgimmar, or Ironforge would be out of the question.
I intend to look more closely at which races are represented in each of Azeroth's holidays, what makes holidays enjoyable in-game, and ways to both include more holidays and celebrate different race's cultures. If you see any mistakes on the list, or have another holiday to add, please comment here or contact me on twitter @redcowrise.