|Significance||A holiday celebrated by those seeking an alternative to the commercialism and pressures of the Christmas holiday season.|
|Celebrations||Airing of Grievances, Feats of Strength, the aluminum pole, Festivus dinner, Festivus miracles|
|Next time||23 December 2014|
Festivus, a well-celebrated parody, has become a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 that serves as an alternative to participating in the pressures and commercialism of the Christmas season. Originally a family tradition of scriptwriter Dan O'Keefe, who worked on the American sitcom Seinfeld, the holiday entered popular culture after it was made the focus of a 1997 episode of the program. The holiday's celebration, as it was shown on Seinfeld, includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum Festivus pole, practices such as the "Airing of Grievances" and "Feats of Strength", and the labeling of easily explainable events as "Festivus miracles".
The episode refers to it as "a Festivus for the rest of us", referencing its non-commercial aspect. It has also been described both as a "parody holiday festival" and as a form of playful consumer resistance.
Festivus was conceived by editor and author Daniel O'Keefe and was celebrated by his family as early as 1966. In the original O'Keefe tradition, the holiday would take place in response to family tension, "any time from December to May". The phrase "A Festivus for the rest of us" also derived from an O'Keefe family event, the death of Daniel O'Keefe's mother.
The word Festivus in this sense was coined by O'Keefe, and according to him the name "just popped into my head". The English word festive derives from Latin "festivus", which in turn derives from festus "joyous; holiday, feast day".
Although the first Festivus took place in February 1966, as a celebration of Daniel O'Keefe's first date with his future wife, Deborah, it is now celebrated on December 23, as depicted in a Seinfeld episode written by O'Keefe's son.
Festivus was introduced in the Seinfeld episode "The Strike", written by Daniel O'Keefe's son Dan O'Keefe. The episode revolves around Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards) returning to work at H&H Bagels. First, while at Monk's Restaurant, Jerry, George, and Elaine discuss George's father's creation of Festivus. Then Kramer becomes interested in resurrecting the holiday when, at the bagel shop, Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller) tells him how he created Festivus as an alternative holiday in response to the commercialization of Christmas.
Frank Costanza's son, George (Jason Alexander), creates donation cards for a fake charity called The Human Fund (with the slogan "Money For People") in lieu of having to give office Christmas presents. When his boss, Mr. Kruger (Daniel von Bargen), questions George about a $20,000 check he gave George to donate to the Human Fund as a corporate donation, George hastily concocts the excuse that he made up the Human Fund because he feared persecution for his beliefs—for not celebrating Christmas, but celebrating Festivus. Attempting to call his bluff, Kruger goes home with George to see Festivus in action.
Kramer eventually goes back on strike from his bagel-vendor job when his manager tells him he cannot have time off for his new-found holiday. Kramer is then seen on the sidewalk picketing H&H Bagels, carrying a sign reading "Festivus yes! Bagels no!" and chanting to anyone passing the store: "Hey! No bagel, no bagel, no bagel..."
The holiday, as portrayed in the Seinfeld episode, includes practices such as the "Airing of Grievances", which occurs during the Festivus meal and in which each person tells everyone else all the ways they have disappointed him or her over the past year. After the meal, the "Feats of Strength" are performed, involving wrestling the head of the household to the floor, with the holiday ending only if the head of the household is actually pinned.
In the episode, the tradition of Festivus begins with an aluminum pole. Dan O'Keefe credits fellow Seinfeld writer Jeff Schaffer with introducing the concept, which was not part of the original O'Keefe family celebration. During Festivus, the pole is displayed unadorned. According to George's father, "I find tinsel distracting."
In "The Strike", a celebratory dinner is shown on the evening of Festivus prior to the Feats of Strength and during the Airing of Grievances. The on-air meal was shown to be some sort of meatloaf and spaghetti with red sauce. The original holiday dinner in the O'Keefe household featured turkey or ham followed by a Pepperidge Farm cake decorated with M&M's, as described in detail in Dan O'Keefe's The Real Festivus. In the Seinfeld episode, no alcohol is served at the dinner, but George's boss, Mr. Kruger, drinks something from a hip flask.
Airing of Grievances
The celebration of Festivus begins with the "Airing of Grievances", which takes place immediately after the Festivus dinner has been served. It consists of each person lashing out at others and the world about how they have been disappointed in the past year.
Feats of Strength
The Feats of Strength are the final tradition observed in the celebration of Festivus, celebrated immediately following (or in the case of "The Strike", during) the Festivus dinner. The head of the household selects one person at the Festivus celebration and challenges that person to a wrestling match. Tradition states that Festivus is not over until the head of the household is pinned in a wrestling match. In "The Strike", however, Kramer manages to circumvent the rule by creating an excuse to leave. The Feats of Strength are mentioned twice in the episode before they actually take place. In both instances, no detail was given as to what had actually happened, but in both instances, George Costanza ran out of the coffee shop in a mad panic, implying he had bad experiences with the Feats of Strength in the past. What the Feats of Strength entailed was revealed at the very end of the episode, when it actually took place. Failing to pin the head of the household results in Festivus continuing until such requirement is met.
Cosmo Kramer twice declares a "Festivus Miracle" during the Festivus celebration in the Costanza household. It is the character Kramer that actually causes the occurrence of two "miracles" by inviting two off-track betting bookies to dinner with Elaine (men whom Elaine wished to avoid), and by causing Jerry's girlfriend Gwen to believe that Jerry was cheating on her.
Some people, most of them inspired by the Seinfeld episode, subsequently began to celebrate the holiday with varying degrees of seriousness. Allen Salkin's 2005 book Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us chronicles the early adoption of Festivus. Rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut's book A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to Be Jewish (Rutgers University Press, 2012) references Festivus, along with hybrid holidays such as Chrismukkah.
In 2000, Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick would not allow his NFL football team's players to discuss the possibility of competing in that season's Super Bowl. Instead, he and the rest of the Ravens players and staff referred to the NFL playoffs as Festivus, and the Super Bowl as Festivus Maximus. In 2005, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle was declared "Governor Festivus" and during the holiday season displayed a Festivus Pole in the family room of the Executive Residence in Madison, Wisconsin. Governor Doyle's 2005 Festivus Pole is now part of the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Museum.
In 2010, a CNN story featuring Jerry Stiller detailed the increasing popularity of the holiday, including US Representative Eric Cantor's Festivus fundraiser, and the Christian Science Monitor reported that Festivus was a top trend on Twitter that year. In 2012, Google introduced a custom search result for the term "Festivus". In addition to the normal results an unadorned aluminum pole was displayed running down the side of the list of search results and "A Festivus Miracle!" prefixes the results count and speed.
In 2012, a Festivus Pole was erected on city property in Deerfield Beach, Florida, alongside Christian religious holiday displays. A similar Festivus Pole was displayed next to religious displays in the Wisconsin State Capitol, along with a banner provided by the Freedom From Religion Foundation advocating for the separation of government and religion.
O'Keefe family practices
The O'Keefe family holiday featured other practices, as detailed in The Real Festivus (2005), a book by Daniel O'Keefe's son, Dan O'Keefe. The book provides a first-person account of an early version of the Festivus holiday as celebrated by the O'Keefe family, and how Dan O'Keefe amended or replaced details of his father's invention to create the Seinfeld episode.
In a CNN segment on the origins of Festivus, O'Keefe spoke about the real-life origins of Festivus. O'Keefe's father, who originated some of the now-recognized Festivus traditions, used a clock, not an aluminum pole. O'Keefe told CNN:
"The real symbol of the holiday was a clock that my dad put in a bag and nailed to the wall every year...I don't know why, I don't know what it means, he would never tell me. He would always say, 'That's not for you to know.'"
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