Today is a holiday, but there hasn’t been a nationwide countdown since the beginning of November. You won’t find its name emblazoned across Coca-Cola cans or etched into ornaments and other assorted baubles. There are hardly any accessories necessary to celebrating this humble feast, save an aluminum pole. I am of course referring to Festivus.
Festivus is a holiday that was once only celebrated by one family. After it was revealed to the world by the hit television show “Seinfeld,” many others adopted it, sometimes substituting it in place of Christmas.
According to “Seinfeld” character Frank Costanza (father of George Costanza), he invented Festivus after he found himself in a brawl with another Christmas shopper over a doll. The doll was destroyed and Frank decided there had to be a better way to celebrate the holidays. He coined the slogan, “A Festivus for the rest of us” and invented the other rules and events of the holiday:
Festivus is celebrated December 23rd and because Frank finds tinsel distracting, it and a Christmas tree is forbidden. Instead of a tree, a bare aluminum pole is the center of attention.
Immediately after a Festivus dinner, the celebration begins with the “Airing of Grievances.” It consists of each family member taking turns to lash out at the world and the things that have upset them over the year.
“Feats of Strength” involves the head of the household selecting one person at the Festivus celebration and challenging him/her to a wrestling match. Tradition states that the holiday is not over until the head of the household is pinned in said wrestling match.
The original Festivus was celebrated by the family of “Seinfeld” writer Daniel O’Keefe, whose father Dan actually invented the holiday. According to the New York Times , “the first Festivus took place in February 1966 before any of the elder O’Keefe’s children were born and was a celebration of the anniversary of his first date with his wife.” The word “Festivus” popped into his head and the holiday was born.
The holiday developed in the 1970s when O’Keefe was researching his book on sociology “Stolen Lightning.” Though there was never a pole, the younger O’Keefe did say that there were airings of grievances into a tape recorder and wrestling matches between Daniel and his two brothers, among other things.
Though the “Seinfeld” episode featuring Festivus was aired in 1997, the holiday has gained momentum over the years. There is a book published about the holiday (“Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us”) and you can purchase your very own Festivus pole online for less than $40.
Though I am little more than mildly interested in “Seinfeld” (my husband calls it brilliant), after shopping for Christmas this year, I can understand why Festivus is tempting. The shopping, the hustling and bustling, the countdown and commercialization of what should be a quiet time with family and friends can be taxing. Though I would never give up Christmas, I can understand why that bare aluminum pole would be ridiculously appealing.
Allen Salkin, Fooey to the World: Festivus Is Come, The New York Times
Festivus: A New Secular, Family Celebration on Dec. 23, Religious Tolerance.org
Official Festivus Book Website