Yuletide

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Challenge
Name: Yuletide, "while we tell of yuletide treasure"
Date(s): 2003-present
Moderator(s):
Founder: astolat and tzikeh
Type: fanfiction gift exchange
Fandom: rarefandom, multifandom
Associated Community: yuletide @ livejournal, yuletide_admin @ livejournal
URL: http://yuletidetreasure.org/; Yuletide collection on the AO3
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Contents

Yuletide is an annual rare-fandoms gift exchange fanfic challenge, encompassing gen, het, femslash, and slash. Participants agree to write a 1,000-word (minimum) story for a randomly assigned recipient who has requested at least one of the things the writer offered to do, in return for receiving a story from a randomly assigned writer fulfilling one of the participant's requests.

The criteria for what constitutes "rare" have changed slightly every year as the admins try to find the right balance for the growing number of participants. For instance, in the first year, the challenge was for rare fandoms or rare pairings (which could be from a non-rare fandom). At one point Fanfiction.net was used as one of the yardsticks for "how much fiction already exists", but a number of participants pointed out that Yuletide participants are largely from a different part of fandom than fanfiction.net users, and ff.net was later dropped as a yardstick.[citation needed]

The spirit of "rare" stays the same, though: the idea of Yuletide is to provide fiction for people who may never have seen any stories for a source they love, or have seen so few that they're starving for them.

Wait Wait Don't Eat Me is an example of a story that pulled in a significant number of readers from outside of the fannish community after being linked to by prominent websites.[1]

History

For a detailed history, see History of Yuletide.

Yuletide began in 2003, started by astolat and tzikeh, was moderated for eight years by elynross and astolat, and in 2013, by hhertzof and jenn_calaelen with astolat and elyross's help. (bridgetmc, originally announced as an additional co-moderator, stepped back from the post shortly after the announcement, citing personal reasons.) [2].

Participation has risen from roughly 300 people in 2003 to over 2,100 people[3] in 2009, to date the maximum. Over that time the number of fandoms with stories in the original Yuletide archive has climbed to almost 1,900[4]. On the 25th December 2009 there were 3430 stories posted for Yuletide 2009.[5] Fandoms include live-action tv, anime, cartoons, manga, games, books, movies, RPF, commercials, and songs.

From 2003 through October 2009, all of the stories were posted to the Yuletide archive. For the 2009 challenge, posting moved to the Yuletide collection on the Archive of Our Own. At that time, the moderators also announced plans to import the entire contents of the old archive to A03 following the completion of the 2009 challenge. After several years' delay, the Open Doors project group announced in late March of 2014 that the import will occur in early May 2014.

The Archive

Yuletide banner

Because of the nature of the challenge, the archive opens and closes at different points during the year. For most of the year, though, it's open for browsing by anyone (and uploading for New Year's Resolution stories).

With a wide range of fans participating, the archive is fairly evenly balanced in terms of ratings and between gen, het, femslash, and slash. Stories are posted with ratings and summaries attached, but that's it: since every story on the archive was written with a specific person in mind, most don't have warnings attached. Unless indicated in the summary, readers may not be able to tell whether stories are gen, het, femslash, or slash, or what the central pairing is (if there is a pairing.)

Comments are very much encouraged, but with the caveat that every story was written as a gift for someone else, catering to their tastes.

The challenge is made possible because of a script for the matching process developed by astolat in the first year, which has been used in every succeeding year. Because the matching is somewhat automated, it's possible for the challenge to grow substantially in size every year -- the mods have never had to put a cap on it. This process, and the Yuletide archive itself, are a model of effective archiving and of using small and powerful scripts to help facilitate broad fannish projects like this one.

In 2009, the challenge was hosted on the AO3 for the first time, and was the first collection hosted there. RivkaT wrote a brief, outsider's-eye view of the various technical difficulties historically suffered by the database end of the archive that made a move to the AO3 helpful, if not vital, to the long-term sustainability of the challenge:

We begin with 300+ participants! Yuletide was huge in 2003! Too bad the software couldn’t handle smart quotes. .txt only to be sure it was right, no takebacks!

In 2004, with over 500 participants, the site was hacked due to the host's failure, despite astolat's warning, to correct a security vulnerablity. Result: server move mid-uploading crunch, with extra fun propagating a new domain name, and resulting comment glitches.

2005: Growth continues apace, with ~850 participants. Still no editing without modly intervention.

2006: Delays due to server load; incrementally backing up after every single story was uploaded, necessary because of creakiness of database, took time. There were bizarre uploading database issues, the kind of things it takes a computer to screw up. Last minute archive lockdown! Still no editing without modly intervention. And who else recalls the spam comments flood of 2006?

2007, with over 1200 signups: Remember having to save your emailed comments, because otherwise you couldn’t respond after the author reveal? Heavy server load issues are scary. Yes, modly intervention still required for edits. This one’s just a well-titled post: We’re working on the problem! (At one point, a couple hundred stories were stranded in database hell.) I wrote you a story but the server ated it. Strangely prolific author, whose name just happens to be the first on the list. The archive goes down Dec. 28, and not in the good way.

2008, 1599 signups: Pre-Dec. 25: Various small but nervewracking bugs, heavy server loads, representative database crashes, including one when astolat herself had crashed, leading to database nervous breakdown, and up and down again (note that these aren’t even all the instances, just a representative sample: something needed to change). Post-Dec. 25, server load still heavy, links still wonky due to size of database, server load so heavy that the quicksearch links couldn’t even be fully generated. Slowness due to heavy server load continues through the author reveal.[6]
The move took away a few features (most notably, the spiffy "Latest story updated by [Author Name]!" with sparkly bright exclamation points of joy around it, along with the number saying which story it was of the total), but added many more, including an automatic gift notification in user dashboards, the ability to list all the fandoms in a crossover, tagging, filtering, and most importantly, the ability to edit one's story after upload, saving users endless hours of angsting after hitting "post" and the mods endless hours of manually going in and making edits to stories at desperate users' request. The move also meant that some of the strange glitches of the old site could be avoided, particularly the one where .txt files made in the default OSX text editor often weren't recognized as .txt (and so couldn't be uploaded).

When the move to AO3 was announced in 2009, the moderators also announced plans to import the entire Yuletide archive into the AO3 as well. Over the next several years, several estimated dates for the migration came and went with no visible progress. Late in March 2014, the Open Doors Committee finally announced a May 2014 date for the importing of the old archive to AO3, potentially creating duplicate versions in those cases where AO3 users have already uploaded these stories to the archive. According to the initial announcement, only stories (and not the associated comments) would be imported. After complaints, it was later announced that comments could be imported after all, with the limitation that all imported comments would appear as "guest" comments (that is, the original commenters' names would appear, but individual comments couldn't be linked to current AO3 users).[7] And at last, the import was in fact performed; a post from Open Doors on May 18, 2014 formally announced its completion.[8]

The Challenge

The challenge runs for several months starting in the early fall. The earlier a participant gets involved, the more likely she is to wind up with a fandom selection she's happy with; for instance, people who skip the nominating process can find themselves unable to choose the characters they most prefer, because those characters never made it onto the final list.

Challenge participants write one story and receive one story in return. The only requirement for a story is that it be for one of the recipient's requested fandoms, and that it include the characters the recipient requested.

Participants can also give additional details in their requests -- such as asking for the characters to be paired, or requesting a specific type of story -- and may also write a 'Dear Yuletide Author' letter following the matchup, giving further details about their preferences. However, all of these details are optional, and are meant simply to provide extra guidance for authors who may want more information. Authors are free to ignore any such optional details, so long as they meet the requirements of choosing a requested fandom and including the requested characters.

Participants are encouraged to write a story that will please their recipient, but because of the huge scale of the challenge and the vast numbers of small fandoms involved, they are equally encouraged to simply be grateful for any story that gets written for them in turn, even if it is not quite to their personal tastes.

Challenge Prep

Screenshots from the Yuletide tribute vid One-Night Fandoms

With so many participants and so many fandoms to match them up with, there's some significant prep time involved.

Sometime in the fall, the Yuletide admins start things rolling by posting to the Yuletide LJ for fandom brainstorming ideas. Anyone can comment with fandoms they'd like to see, whether they intend to participate or not.

After brainstorming, the admins shift to the archive itself, and open up nominations for the current year's active list of available fandoms. A completely new list is generated every year, to keep the list from being cluttered with deadwood. As of 2011, people who plan to participate can nominate up to three fandoms (reduced from the six permitted in prior years), and characters they want to read/write for each. The limit is to keep the list of nominated fandoms down to things people are really interested in, not just any rare thing they can think of.

After the list is generated and has gone through a clean-up process to eliminate non-rare fandoms, merge duplicate entries, etc., signups begin.[9]

Signing Up

Using the new list of available fandoms, each participant must offer to write a minimum of three different fandoms (there's no maximum). For each offer, she can choose up to four characters to write.

This gets tricky, since the matchups are based strictly on fandom/character; if you offer to write four characters, you could be assigned any combination of those four, including characters who form a pairing that doesn't work for you. (Writers are obligated to use every character their recipient requests, unless the recipient specifically says that's not necessary.) While it's allowed to write gen if you can't write a pairing request, a lot of participants prefer not to be put in that situation. The way around that in the past was to sign up for a fandom as many times as necessary, using different combinations of characters, to avoid any combinations you were unwilling to write. In 2010, the signups portion of the exchange moved to the Archive of Our Own (in 2009, only posting happened on AO3; signups were still on the old site). The new signup form allows people to offer each fandom a maximum of once, meaning that it is no longer possible to offer characters A and B or B and C but not A and C.

The urge to sign up for any source you've ever even heard of is strong. It's important to remember that your odds of being assigned those fandoms are as high as your odds of being assigned the fandom you know like the back of your hand -- possibly even higher, if not many people sign up for that fandom you sorta know and you're sure you won't get assigned anyway.

After completing the "offers" section, participants move on to the "requests" section of the signup.

Each participant must request at least three different fandoms, and up to four characters for each; they're allowed a fourth request as well, which could be a different fandom or a repeat of one of the first three with different characters. Each request also has a section for 'optional details', where the participant can put in a note giving a little more context, like whether they want gen, het, or slash, or if they like angst or fluff, or suggesting a possible storyline. These details are optional from the perspective of the author, who is under no obligation to fulfil them, though they are expected to try to write a story that will please their partner.

After submitting the signup form, a copy of the assignment is mailed to the participant so she can see if she made any mistakes. Signups can be changed at any time during the signup period.[10]

Assignments

Assignments go out within a few days of the end of signups. Every participant is emailed a copy of their recipient's requests. There's generally a brief period of widespread panic and dismay at this point in the process as people wonder what the hell they were thinking to sign up for that fandom, omg.

Once the panic has subsided, authors have roughly six weeks to write a 1,000-word story based on their recipient's request, tailored to their recipient's taste as much as possible. The only requirements are to match the fandom and the characters, so it's fine to do a gen story if someone has requested a pairing. Most people do try to fulfill the specifics as best they can, though, and many spend some time looking through their recipient's LJ or website to get a feel for their preferences, including bulletproof kinks or squicks.

Once the story is written, it's uploaded to the Yuletide archive.[11]

If any recipients don't have stories uploaded after the upload deadline, their request details are sent out to pinch-hitters, who very quickly work to get appropriate stories written and uploaded, so everyone has something waiting for them on reveal day.[12]

Yuletide Madness

Yuletide Madness is a backup to the pinch-hitting process, as a way of guaranteeing that everyone signed up for the challenge has a story waiting for them on reveal day.

Most of those people have a pinch-hitter working on something, but emergencies happen, and rather than scrambling for a backup pinch-hitter at the 11th hour, the mods prefer to use a safety net.

So somewhere around December 23rd, after the vast majority of stories have been uploaded, the mods post a list of prompts for anyone who doesn't yet have a story in the archive. Those prompts are open to any signed-up participant or pinch-hitter to write a 1,000-word story for, and the membership at large is encouraged to have at it. Some people, however, look to find something to write through people's Dear Yuletide letters towards the beginning of the fest in order to give themselves time to write.

Sometime on December 24, once everyone has a full-size story in the archive, the word limits are lifted, and all prompts are thrown open for stories of any length. In the original archive, this meant that anyone could post a story of any length to that year's Yuletide collection. In the AO3, the mods create a new subcollection specifically for shorter-length stories (under 1000 words) called Yuletide Madness [Year]. Treats over 1000 words were asked to put into the main collection.

The stories themselves are known as Treats (originally Stocking Stuffers, a term that some people still use), because they are extra little treats for the recipients, and for the membership at large.

Yuletide Madness and the works it generates are not universally loved; see Yuletide: Controversies for a discussion of the issues.

The Reveal

At some point on December 25, the admins re-open the archive to browsing with all of the new stories available, and every participant is emailed with a link to the story written especially for her.

Participants are strongly encouraged to leave a comment on the story written for them.

Author names are hidden for the first week, leading to an orgy of reading and reccing while the stories are standing entirely on their own merits.

The Author Reveal

Sometime on January 1, the admins un-hide the author names, and participants can finally see who wrote stories for them. Authors are also allowed to post their stories to other places at this point.

New Year's Resolution challenge

Once the author names have been revealed, the archive is opened to uploading by anyone again, and the New Year's Resolution (NYR) challenge opens. All of the unfilled requests from the Yuletide challenge are listed on a page, and anyone who wants to can write a story for one of them, uploading it for the recipient. The requirements here are a bit looser; since the recipient has already gotten the gift she signed up for, it's not necessary to try to tailor the story to her preferences.[13]

NYR runs until signups for the next Yuletide open, at which point the archive is closed to new uploads as the admins prep for the new cycle.

Culture

One's Yuletide presents are brought to one by the Yule Goat. The reasons for this are lost in the mists of several years ago (Liviapenn made the concept popular in 2009[14], though it was in use at least two years earlier[15]) but a Yule Goat is felt to be less religiously affiliated than a Santa.

Yuletide is a large fannish event, and is sometimes assumed to be a universal experience, like stepping on a lego brick in the middle of the night. Fans will ask "What did you get for Yuletide?" without first ascertaining if if you were a participant.

As yuletide approaches, the #Yuletide chat room becomes a site of increasing hysteria and hilarity, and for several months after you may expect to see reference to memes born there. The weeks leading up to Yuletide are often permeated by mass panic.

In 2008 eruthros and thingswithwings created One-Night Fandoms, a Yuletide tribute vid that celebrates "the willingness to make fic and make fandom out of anything and everything, to throw yourself wantonly, joyfully, and passionately into a new fandom, even if it can only last a short time."[16]

Controversy

For a detailed discussion, see Yuletide: Controversies.

As with any large fannish endeavor, Yuletide has generated its share of wank, drama, and imbroglios. The disagreements have covered a wide range of issues, including:

  • the timing of signups
  • the moderators' familiarity (or lack thereof) with significant segments of the range of Yuletide-eligible fandoms (particularly anime and manga)
  • the challenge's move to the Archive of Our Own and the consequences thereof
  • disagreements regarding "Yuletide Madness" and stocking-stuffers
  • etiquette and behavior with respect to recs and feedback
  • fandom-specific difficulties (notably involving American Idol).


Notable Stories

While the spirit of Yuletide is really about crafting a story to please one single recipient, in some years certain stories go viral to one degree or another -- sometimes becoming notorious within fandom (Slave Bear Of Care-A-Lot), sometimes attracting extraordinary numbers of recs and rave reviews (The Cable & Deadpool Yuletide Special), and sometimes attracting notice from outside the fanfic and general fan communities (Wait Wait Don't Eat Me).

Related challenges

  • Make The Yuletide Gay - not directly related, just a similar time of year and gets confused with Yuletide
  • I Saw Three Ships - a threesome gift exchange, and again, not directly related, but tends to get talked about together
  • Dark Agenda - a sub-challenge within the yuletide exchange
  • Misses Clause - a sub-challenge within the yuletide exchange focused on female characters and passing the Bechdel Test.[20][21]
  • Parallels - Asian fandoms exchange inspired by Yuletide
  • Fandom Stocking - gift exchange community inspired by Yuletide.

Links

References

  1. Zombie/NPR fanfiction on BoingBoing, posted by Cory Doctorow. Posted February 2, 2010. (Accessed November 18, 2010.)
    Carl Kassell And Braaaaaaains... on Chicagoist. Posted February 3, 2010. (Accessed November 18, 2010.)
    NPR Zombie Spoof: 'Wait Wait Don't Eat Me!' on Huffington Post. Posted February 3, 2010. (Accessed November 18, 2010.)
  2. A Major Yuletide Change posted by elynross on 2013-08-21, accessed 2013-09-22
  3. http://community.livejournal.com/yuletide_admin/86756.html?thread=2431460#t2431460, accessed November 17, 2010
  4. Updated ref: http://yuletidetreasure.org, accessed January 7, 2009
  5. http://archiveofourown.org/collections/ accessed 25 Dec 2009
  6. RivkaT. Yuletide retrospective (with links and references), 25 December 2009. (Accessed 26 December 2009)
  7. [1] Yuletide_Admin @ Livejournal, accessed 27 April 2014.
  8. [2] AO3 News post, accessed 18 May 2014.
  9. The Yuletide FAQ: Assembling the fandoms, accessed August 29, 2008
  10. The Yuletide FAQ: Signing up for Yuletide, accessed August 29, 2008
  11. The Yuletide FAQ: After You Get Your Assignment, accessed August 29, 2008
  12. The Yuletide FAQ: Pinch Hitting, accessed August 29, 2008
  13. The Yuletide FAQ: What is the New Year's Resolution Challenge?, accessed August 29, 2008
  14. Liviapenn. The story of the Yule Goat (äntligen!!!), 20 October 2009. (Accessed 26 December 2009)
  15. yuletide signup + letter to yuletide goat, 6 October 2007. (Accessed 17 November 2011)
  16. thingswithwings, eruthros. One-Night Fandoms: A Tribute to Yuletide, 25 December 2008. (Accessed 26 December 2009)
  17. In addition to breaching more fourth walls than one could shake the proverbial stick at, this story interwove itself (with the original authors' permission) with several prior Yuletide classics, including both Slave Bear of Care-A-Lot and the sandwich story.
  18. Thoughts on Yuletide prompts & requests by Liviapenn, 2 October 2007 (Accessed 3 April 2011) The story is based on the example of the sort of prompt one should not write.
  19. This comment exchange was partly orchestrated by the author via #yuletide, though it then took on a life of its own.
  20. The Misses Clause Challenge post by freneticloetry in the yuletide LJ comm. "Give us your ignored, your unsung, your stories of women waiting to be told..." -- a challenge to write and tag Yuletide stories passing the Bechdel Test, 20 Nov 2011. (Accessed 4 Jan 2012)
  21. Works tagged "Misses Clause Challenge" at the AO3 (319 works on 4 Jan 2012)
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