Mod of the Week: Holidays, for Skyrim
I'd just installed a Skyrim mod and was standing in Whiterun, noticing that nothing seemed to be happening. Broken mod, I assumed, or more likely I installed it incorrectly. Then I noticed a few NPCs drifting into the outdoor market area. Then a few more. A couple started playing instruments, some began to dance, others stood around chatting. I noticed some decorations were up, and a couple tables of sweets had appeared. As night fell, it became a full-on party with throngs of townsfolk, followed by fireworks. It was one of several celebrations added by the Wet and Cold: Holidays Mod, one of the most enjoyable mods I've ever tried.
NPCs: they're abused, mistreated, killed, stolen from, and worst of all, completely ignored. They trudge endlessly along their preset paths, unable to deviate from their daily routines unless there's a dragon attack or some heroic adventurer runs up to them and starts a conversation (and then leaves in the middle of it). In a world full of magic, drama, religion, and folklore, nearly none of which they get to participate in, the NPCs finally have a little something for themselves: holidays.
The Wet and Cold: Holidays mod (note: the holidays themselves are not necessarily wet and cold, that's just the name of a precursor mod that adds effects for the player character getting wet and/or cold), adds a whole bunch of holidays that NPCs can and will celebrate, in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. This isn't just a mod that commands them to go to a specific spot in town and dance for a while. There's actually some lore attached.
For instance, the New Life Festival, taking place on the 1st of Morning Star. It's a day of new beginning, and what better way to begin a new year that bunking off work? Shops are closed all day. On the other hand, during the Merchant's Festival, shops are not only open but everything is half-price, and the stores are crowded with townsfolk looking for a bargain. I took the opportunity to buy myself that chef's hat at Radiant Raiment I've had my eye on. Note: the Mage's Guild does not participate in this one. Of course.
On Harvest's End, workers from local farms come into the city to eat and drink, and you'll find the inns and taverns crowded with revelers all day. In the evening, the crowds will spill into the streets to party, and local children will play a game where they chase a goat. (Well, honestly, I didn't see the kids in Solitude chasing the goat, so I did it myself.) On Tales and Tallows, you'll spy some carved pumpkins outside shops and homes, and people will retire early, leaving the streets vacant and spooky at nightfall. Legend has it, the dead walk the streets that night. Is it true?
There's the Warrior's Festival, where local brawlers and swordsmen will visit blacksmiths, and young lads may purchase their first daggers and go positively apeshit with them (I witnessed this). Both Sun's Rest and The Old Life Festival culminate with a fireworks display, provided by the College of Winterhold, beginning after 10pm in all major cities. There's also a Witches Festival, on the 13th of Frostfall, where warlocks and conjurers meet -- well outside of cities, for obvious reasons -- to summon up all manner of magical beasties and presumably, you know, try to hook up with each other. Well, come on. Witches have the same needs as everyone else.
There are more somber and religious holidays as well, where you'll find townsfolk in the temples, hoping for prayers and magical cures for their ailments or resurrections for their dead. The Festival of Lights takes place in Dawnguard on the 16th of Morning Star to guide the souls lost at sea back to land. (The candles I saw placed all along the shore weren't exactly the blinding beacon I was expecting, but it may have been the hostile, snowy weather that night.)
Don't worry too much about checking the calendar, either. Decorations for holidays will typically appear a few days before the actual event, and a courier will track you down from time to time with flyers advertising the upcoming holiday. And, frankly, it's just fun to visit a city and be nicely surprised every now and then. "Oh, is today Jester's Day already? No wonder everyone's dressed like idiots. It totally slipped my mind!" My advice: install this mod, forget about it, and just run into the occasional celebrating flashmob. There's a full list of holidays, their backgrounds, and where they're celebrated here.
Don't care about NPCs? Still need to feel like the entire world revolves around you, Dragonborn? Never fear, there are several holidays to reinforce the fact that you're a total playa and dragon slaya. There's the Day of the Dragonborn, commemorating your defeat of Alduin (provided you did) and a day marking the ending of Skyrim's Civil War, where you either liberated or reunified the land (if you have). If you're embarrassed by that sort of attention, don't worry. There's absolutely no celebration planned for your birthday. (But you'll still receive a little gift and birthday card.)
Installation: You need a few things, like the latest version of the Skyrim Script Extender, to fully enjoy the mod's decorations and NPC adornments. You'll also need the original Wet and Cold mod, and naturally, the Holidays mod itself. Here it is on the Steam Workshop as well.