|Significance||A holiday celebrated by those frustrated with the commercialism and pressure of the Christmas holiday season.|
|Celebrations||Airing of Grievances, Feats of Strength, the aluminum pole, Festivus dinner, Festivus miracles|
|Next time||23 December 2013|
Festivus, a well-celebrated parody, has become a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 which serves as an alternative to participating in commercialism associated with Christmas. Originally a family tradition of scriptwriter Dan O'Keefe working 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 as a "parody holiday festival" and as a form of playful consumer resistance.
Some atheists have advocated Festivus because of its lack of religious significance, and have erected "festivus poles" alongside public displays of the crèche of Christmas and the menorah of Hanukkah in order to demonstrate their convictions.
The word Festivus in this sense was coined because it sounded funny to editor and author Daniel O'Keefe (writer). The English word "festive" derives from Latin "festivus", which in turn derives from festus "joyous; holiday, feast day".
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. In 1982 Daniel O'Keefe wrote a book, Stolen Lightning: The Social Theory of Magic, that deals with idiosyncratic ritual and its social significance, a theme relevant to Festivus tradition.
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. According to O'Keefe, the name Festivus "just popped into my head".
Festivus is 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..."
Finally at Frank's house in Queens, Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George gather to celebrate Festivus. George brings Kruger to prove to him that Festivus is real.
Some people, most of them inspired by the Seinfeld episode, have subsequently begun 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, the Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick would not allow his players to discuss the possibility of competing in the Super Bowl. Instead, he and the rest of the Ravens players and staff referred to the 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 is displayed running down the side of the list of search results and "A Festivus Miracle!" prefixes the results count and speed.
Use by atheists
In 2013, an atheistic organization advocating an absolute separation of church and state countered the placement of a nativity scene, menorah and other religious holiday displays in the Florida State Capitol Building with the placement of a Festivus Pole constructed with six feet of beer cans.The organizers of the Christmas manger scene stated that while they felt that the alcohol cans were inappropriate for children visiting the Capitol, "they have freedom of speech to do that." The year before, the self-described "militant atheist" Chaz Stevens erected a Festivus Pole on city property of Deerfield Beach, Florida, alongside Christian and Jewish holiday displays. Stephens, who campaigns for the erection of Festivus Poles, said that "If we agree that the First Amendment would say separation of church and state, no mixture of religion and government, the menorah, crèche, and Ramadan displays would not be allowed, while a Festivus pole would be." Harry Mihet of the Liberty Counsel responded to the allegation, stating that the "Supreme Court of the United States has held that the First Amendment does not require hostility to religion, it does not require the government to censor people of faith" and that "allowing people of faith to display holiday décor, in equal terms with non-religious people, in no way offends the constitutional mandate against a state church."
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.
The original holiday featured more peculiar 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 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.
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 is 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. Evidently, the person may decline if they have something else to do, as Kramer did in the episode. Tradition states that Festivus is not over until the head of the household is pinned in a wrestling match. 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.
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