Festivus, the zany holiday that appeared on Seinfeld, received mainstream attention in December 1997 when the Festivas celebration was featured in the episode, “The Strike.” In the episode, Frank Costanza, George’s father, invented the holiday to counter the commercialism of the other winter holidays. According to the Seinfeld episode, Festivus consists of the following traditions: the Festivus Pole, an Airing of Grievances, and Feats of Strength. Now, many people celebrate Festivus in addition (or in lieu of) the traditional winter holidays on December 23.
The True History of Festivus
Festivus did not get its start with Seinfeld. It was the brainchild of Dan O’Keefe, who in 1966, coined it to celebrate the anniversary of his first date with his wife. The current manifestation of Festivus dates from the 1970’s, when O’Keefe was doing research for a sociology book about cults, the paranormal, and astrology, and how people use them to defend against various social pressures. The O’Keefe family did not have a set date for Festivus; instead, they would hold the celebration whenever the family needed it as an outlet.
The Seinfeld Connection
Years later, O’Keefe’s son, Daniel, was a writer for Seinfeld, and brought the holiday to national attention in “The Strike” episode. The episode brought new twists to the Festivus celebration: the Pole and the Festivus Miracle. The Festivus Pole was a subdued holiday fixture in the Costanza household, while the character Cosmo Kramer coined the term “Festivus Miracle” to describe mildly unpleasant coincidences that occurred to several characters on the show.
How to Host a Festivus Celebration
To host your own Festivus Holiday, first select a date. The O’Keefe tradition encourages Festivus any time of the year, though in the post-Seinfeld era, it is celebrated on December 23. Once you’ve set the date and invited your guests, you’ll need to construct a Festivus Pole, and prepare for the Airing of Grievances and the Feats of Strength. Here’s what you need for each:
- The Festivus Pole: Invented by the character of Frank Costanza in opposition to the over-adorned Christmas Tree, the Festivus Pole is a plain aluminum pole. There are no requirements for height or for the materials used to support the Pole, though some set the Pole in buckets of cement, boxes of rocks, or even Christmas tree stands. The Pole must be undecorated, and in particular, should be free of the distracting properties of tinsel.
- Airing of Grievances: During the Airing of Grievances, the family members or Festivus revelers form a circle and blame each other for the bitter disappointments they’ve endured. There is no mandatory “making up.” According to Seinfeld tradition, the Airing of Grievances is recorded on cassette tape.
- Feats of Strength: Feats of Strength always follows the Airing of Grievances as the final Festivus catharsis. For practitioners of Seinfeldian Festivus, Feats of Strength requires that a chosen Festivus reveler wrestle the head of the household. Festivus can only end once the head of the household has been pinned to the ground.
Like any holiday, Festivus has its variations. Mix up your Festivus celebration with a few of these ideas:
- Festivus Dinner: Have a hearty dinner prior to the Airing of Grievances, as practiced on Seinfeld.
- Change the format of the Airing of Grievances by writing them down or videotaping them.
- Swap the wrestling portion of Feats of Strength with a competitive thumb wrestle, washer toss, or any other competitive sport of your choice.
- Make favors for your Festivus companions. Construct miniature Festivus Poles from a nail and a miniature flower pot.
At your Festivus celebration, remember to embrace the true nature of the holiday and create your own special traditions.
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