7 Fun Facts About Festivus the Holiday for the Rest of Us
Maybe you’ve heard the motto “A Festivus for the rest of us!” Maybe, unfortunately, you haven’t discovered the glory of Festivus yet. Either way, you’re in for a treat. Festivus is a unique holiday in which friends and family circle an undecorated aluminum pole instead of a jazzed-up Christmas tree or lighted menorah. It’s a holiday that welcomes grievances, crappy food, and familial fighting. What’s not to love?
Fed up with Christmas decorations for sale before Thanksgiving’s come and even just after Halloween? Tired of the neighbors who string their lights and display fake Santa and his reindeer and insist on saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays”? Then Festivus is just what you were waiting for!
Happy Festivus! Festivus is the holiday featured in Seinfeld’s “The Strike” episode of December 18, 1997. It’s also celebrated by real folks like you each year on December 23rd, though the holiday can be celebrated any time of the year or throughout the month of December.
Whereas Christmas has become over-commercialized, Festivus is the holiday for those that don’t need tinsel all over the Christmas tree and floors and mantelpiece. Drop holiday time materialism and opt for something greater in Festivus. Now’s the time to dive into the traditional Airing of Grievances and a delicious Festivus dinner, followed by a Feats of Strength ritual when the head of the household is pinned down to the floor. Now’s the time to learn of the mystical yet simultaneously practical story of Festivus’ real origins in the life of TV writer Daniel O’Keefe.
So What’s Festivus, Anyway? Well, it First Appeared on Seinfeld.
Festivus first emerged into the public consciousness in the ninth season of the oft-celebrated sitcom Seinfeld, “the show about nothing.” Like the show’s premise, Festivus is, in some sense, the holiday about nothing. In the episode “The Strike,” Frank Costanza, George’s father, stars as a concerned citizen, upset by the commercialization of December holidays like Christmas and Hanukkah.
At the beginning of the episode, George opens a card from his dad and embarrassedly reveals that his father has made up his own holiday then storms out of the restaurant. “No! No! It’s nothing! It’s a stupid holiday my father invented! It doesn’t exist!” he yells later.
In another scene, a fascinated Kramer asks George’s dad Frank to explain the origin of Festivus:
Frank Costanza: Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.
Cosmo Kramer: What happened to the doll?
Frank Costanza: It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born … a Festivus for the rest of us!
Festivus is celebrated with Frank in the lead, as all eat a Festivus feast, listen to Frank air grievances, and practice the Feats of Strength. Kramer even protests outside the bagel shop where he works with a sign reading “Festivus yes! Bagels no!” angry that he can’t get a day off to celebrate.
And, so, Festivus was born.
Festivus Didn’t Come Out of Thin Air—It Had its Origins in the Real World.
Festivus wasn’t created from nothing. It had its origins way back when in 1966, when Daniel O’Keefe Sr. and his soon-to-be fiancée Deborah celebrated the anniversary of their first date. It was then that Dan Sr. invented the holiday for the restivus. Ever since then, their family continued to celebrate Festivus yearly, even though they never bothered to give it a definitive date. It certainly wasn’t celebrated on the 25th of December, though. Like the Costanzas, O’Keefe wanted a secular holiday that wasn’t bogged down in commercialism and religion.
O’Keefe wasn’t the exact origin of the holiday either, though. His inspiration for airing grievances during Festivus came from Samuel Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape. In the play, the main character tapes himself speaking throughout his life, and even records his family members complaining. This inspired The Airing of Grievances tradition, which we’ll get to later. The O’Keefes, too, still have recordings of their own complaining taped in honor of Krapp’s.
Of course, Daniel O’Keefe Jr. had to make up some of the holiday for TV, adding his own twist. For one, his family never celebrated with an aluminum pole. Rather, his father mysteriously hammered a clock in a bag to the wall! Dan had no idea why his dad did this, and the man wouldn’t reveal the esoteric meaning behind it. It turns out, the real Festivus is stranger than fiction. According to O’Keefe Jr., “Most of the Festivi had a theme. One was, ‘Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?’ Another was, ‘Too easily made glad?’” How thoughtfully and delightfully odd!
There’s No Need for a Christmas Tree When You’ve Got a Festivus Pole.
There are a lot of requirements for Christmas: expensive ornaments that break anyway, lights that go out when just one is defective, the tree you wander through the wilderness for, the food, the gifts, the… The list goes on. Those who celebrate Festivus see through the illusion of materialism and choose to ditch the commercialism of present-day December holidays. So all they purchase, if anything at all, is an aluminum pole. A pole void of decorations.
As the episode goes, Kramer asks, “Is there a tree?” and Frank Costanza proudly replies, “No. Instead, there’s a pole. Requires no decoration. I find tinsel distracting.” Tinsel does have a habit of getting all over and making a mess, doesn’t it? Later, when Kramer asks to celebrate Festivus, Costanza cheers that he’ll go remove his Festivus Pole from the crawlspace. Costanza praises the pole for its “very high strength-to-weight ratio.”
If you feel the same as Kramer and want to embrace this kooky holiday, a Festivus Pole is only one click away at Festivuspoles.com. Of course, there’s always Home Depot, Lowe’s, or Amazon’s Festivus Kit too. If you really want to get into the spirit of Festivus, though, explore your basement or attic and find something useless, like an old lamp or TV stand, and create your own unique Festivus centerpiece. After all, Frank Costanza is one frugal man.
No Holiday Season is Complete Without a Mouth-watering Festivus Feast.
But is it truly mouthwatering, delicious, and delightful? Well, it depends on your perspective. Maybe you’re tired of the hoorah surrounding the large holiday dinners you’re used to: the ham, the turkey, the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the salads and salads, the sides and sides… It can be a little overwhelming after a while. Thankfully, there’s Festivus for the rest of us! In the original episode of Seinfeld featuring Festivus, the Costanzas hold a Festivus feast that consists of, simply, meatloaf on a bed of lettuce. There are no drinks or sides and no adornments on the plain white table. Actually, hardly anyone eats anything.
In Dan O’Keefe’s book The Real Festivus, Dan explains in-depth what the true, real-life Festivus feast included. According to him, though the table wasn’t decorated, the attendees’ heads were. Funny hats were encouraged and a Play-Doh sculpture competition was judged by Dan’s mother. For food, there was a main course of turkey or ham followed by a special cake decorated with chocolate icing and M&M’s. Meat and dessert? Well, I can definitely get behind that!
There’s No Better Way to Celebrate the Holidays than Pointing Out What You Don’t Like About Each Other.
After the Festivus feast, there’s nothing like a good old fashioned Airing of Grievances. According to Frank Costanza, it’s the most wonderful time of the year when you get to share with your friends and family the various ways they’ve let you down over the past 365 days.
Frank shrieks, “Welcome newcomers! The tradition of Festivus begins with the Airing of Grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now you’re gonna hear about it!” He goes on to list reasons he’s upset with those who have so graciously gathered around his table. There’s something beautiful about the ability to speak freely, even if what you have to say is negative. Whereas sometimes the holidays can feel phony in their excessive merriment, Festivus doesn’t call for any acting or sweetening of the truth. Rather, it asks for the plain and simple truth, even if it hurts.
In “The Strike,” Frank is the only one who gets to express his grievances, but traditionally, everyone around the table takes their turn to complain, making the ritual fair and equal to all involved. If you’re looking for advice on how to smoothly or politely practice the Airing of Grievances, check out Festivus! The Book for easy-access guidelines.
Next is the “Feats of Strength” Tradition. Because Who Doesn’t Want to Beat the Crap out of Their Relatives and Friends?
Let’s rumble! There’s nothing like seeing relatives you never see once a year at the holidays. If there isn’t enough moonshine to go around, surely there’s going to be some uncomfortable political discussions or dug-up family feuds to be had. Festivus has just the ticket for letting out this familial rage: the Feats of Strength.
After the feast and the Airing of Grievances, what could be better than the Feats of Strength tradition? Although we hear that Festivus hasn’t ended until the head of the household is pinned to the floor, the actual feats of strength are unclear, as the episode ends just as they are about to begin. Of course, the head of the family—Frank Costanza—is in charge of choosing who will participate in the Feats of Strength. The only way out of it is if you’ve got something better to do in mind, as Kramer has to hurry off to work at his dreaded bagel shop.
Although the Feats of Strength are shaded in mystery, one Festivus website does list a variety of suggestions. Rather than wrestling the head of the household to the floor, why not opt for the slightly more peaceful arm wrestling or thumb war? There are staring contests to be had! And board games to be cracked open! Oh, Festivus. What a holiday!
It’s as Real as Saint Nick, and Festivus Poles Deserve Respect Just Like Any Other Holiday Symbol.
The rest of us exist—people really do celebrate Festivus. If Festivuspoles.com isn’t enough to convince you, check out these stories.
Seinfeld fan and Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle displayed a beautifully simply Festivus Pole in his Executive Residence during the 2005 holiday season. Above it, the Freedom from Religion Foundation provided a banner. His pole is now happily housed in the Wisconsin Historical Museum.
There have been a waterfall of Festivus Poles erected alongside religious-themed displays. Perhaps most amazingly, in 2013, a Festivus Pole was put up next to a nativity scene in the Florida State Capitol Building. These people are for real! Chaz Stevens paraded into the Capitol building with a PVC pipe-pole and a case of empty PBR cans, insisting that the secular holiday Festivus had every right to be included in holiday celebrations. It was more than that, of course. Stevens had a message: “This is about separation of church and state. The government shouldn’t be in the business of allowing the mixture of church and state,” he said, referring to the nativity scene. Because the rotunda was considered a “public forum,” such displays, and Steven’s, would have to be allowed. He erected the pole again the next year and said, “It’s supposed to be ridiculous, it’s supposed to be blight. It’s supposed to be an eyesore. It’s supposed to troll you. It’s supposed to anger a lot of you. That’s what I did. I did it on purpose like that. As I said last year, if you can think of a better idea, something that’s more ridiculous, I’m open to that.” This man knows how to air his grievances, am I right?
Ultimately, the real point of Festivus is anti-commercialism, something plenty of us, religious or not, can get behind. It doesn’t take much more than a handful of Black Friday videos to make you wonder if we’ve taken this holiday of giving too far into selling-and-taking-land. Attendants yell “ready?!” before opening up store doors. People knock each other over like participants in Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls. They scream, they cry, they shout, and some even die. Take a step back and imagine a holiday centered on an unadorned pole, a pole which is not surrounded by dozens of gift-wrapped, over-priced presents. Doesn’t it look attractive, now?
Still, we cling to these holidays because there is something sweet and even real about being happy and merry and joyful even when we don’t necessarily want to be. There’s something nice about pretending or remembering that you love your relatives and friends, even if they know better than anyone else how to piss you off. Festivus doesn’t ask that you ditch Christmas or Christmahanukkah or Hanukkah or any other holiday. Rather, it asks you to step back, look at how you’re choosing to celebrate your holidays, and consider some silly alternatives. Whether you decide to adopt Festivus or not, the restivus will be heartily celebrating this December and year-round with the Festivus Pole, the Festivus feast, Airing of Grievances, the Feats of Strength, and absolutely zero presents or decorations. Hold up your empty wine glass. Serve up your meatloaf on a bed of wilted lettuce. Cheers to Festivus!