Festivus for the rest of us! How Festivus started
Do you wish to escape from the commercialisation of Christmas? Do you find tinsel distracting? Are you looking to air your grievances?
All around the world, people have embraced the December 23rd holiday of Festivus. Really, Festivus is about celebrating the classic 90s sitcom Seinfeld, but it’s the perfect secular celebration that can be about whatever you want.
Or, in true Seinfeld style, Festivus can be a celebration about nothing!
Take a look at this tongue-in-cheek alternative holiday and see how many hidden Seinfeld references you can spot.
The origin of Festivus
Incredibly enough, the celebration of Festivus predates TV’s Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer.
It actually goes back to the childhood of Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe. O’Keefe’s father created Festivus when Dan was young in defiance of what he perceived to be the commercialisation of Christmas.
Apparently, O’Keefe wasn’t keen on his family history making its way onto the show but once the Festivus cat was out of the bag, it was too good to resist. The other writers knew gold when they saw it and simply had to work it into the show.
George Costanza’s father, Frank was the perfect character to bring “Festivus to the rest of us!”
So, on the 18th of December, 1997, Festivus was revealed to the world. Episode 9 of season 10 of Seinfeld was called ‘The Strike’ and featured Frank Costanza’s holiday creation, Festivus.
The fictional version of Festivus started when Frank was searching for a doll for his son (George as a child). He ended up in a fight with another man and, in his words: “As I rained blows down upon him, I realised there had to be another way.”
The doll was destroyed, but out of that, a new holiday was born. A Festivus for the rest of us!’ It may seem crazy at first but to paraphrase Kramer, “Is it crazy? Or is it so sane it blew your mind?”
We all start yearning for an alternative to Christmas at this time of year, when the shopping bills mount up. If only there was a way to avoid the preparation, planning and stress of this annual holiday…
“Frank: 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.Kramer: What happened to the doll?
Frank: It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born. A Festivus for the rest of us.
Kramer: That must have been some kind of doll.
Frank: She was.”
Seinfeld, Season 9 Episode 10, The Strike (the one about Festivus)
Never seen the episode? Wondering what all the fuss is about? Here’s a quick rundown:
The episode that started it all reveals that the character Kramer once had a job at a bagel shop but has been on strike for twelve years. When he finds the strike is over, he heads back to work. Funnily enough, no one remembers him.
After the scene is set, despite George’s protestations, Jerry tells Elaine and Kramer all about George’s father’s invented holiday Festivus.
“Jerry: When George was growing up his father hated all the commercial religious aspects of Christmas, so he made up his own holiday.
Elaine: Oh, and another piece of the puzzle falls into place.
Jerry: And instead of a tree didn’t your father put up an aluminum pole?
George: Stop it.
Jerry: Weren’t there feats of strength that ended up with you crying?”
Kramer is very interested in Festivus and Frank Constanza is pleased to revive the event with an enthusiastic follower. Kramer goes back on strike when he is refused time off for Festivus.
Hilariously, George is forced to invite his boss to Festivus celebrations. By the end, Frank has aired his grievances and George is forced to enact the ‘feat of strength’ (more on that shortly) by wrestling his father.
Getting your ‘Festivus’ on: When to celebrate
December 23rd is officially Festivus, although there is no reason not to hold Festivus any time you want in any way you want.
Crack on a few episodes of Seinfeld and it’s an official Festivus for you and your family!
How to decorate for Festivus
Pack away the tinsel and the tree. Skip the shortbread and the fruit mince pies. There is only one essential decoration for Festivus; the ‘aluminum pole’.
As Frank states. “It’s made from aluminum, very high strength to weight ratio”. It does away with all the bells and whistles of fancy-schmancy Christmas trees.
“Kramer: Frank, this new holiday of yours is scratching me right where I itch.
Frank: Let’s do it then. Festivus is back. I’ll get the pole out of the crawl space.”
The aluminium pole requires no decoration, which is great for the Costanza household because Frank finds tinsel ‘distracting’.
The pure and efficient simplicity of the aluminum pole is a true thing of beauty. It makes it clear that it’s Festivus without all the garishness and ostentation of the traditional Christmas tree. In fact, it can be said to help create “Serenity now!”
Believe it or not, Festivus poles can be purchased online at shops like fun.com.au. The Festivus Celebration kit available at amazon.com.au or the Book Depository can help you celebrate Festivus in an authentic style.
Cheaper than a tree and more of a talking point… this season, choose ‘Aluminium pole’!
Traditional Festivus activities
If you want to celebrate Festivus properly, you need to know the basics. There are a few simple steps to the traditional Festivus celebration:
Set up your pole:
Very simple, no decoration required. Stand it up and enjoy the strength to weight ratio of your pole in all of its Festivus glory.
Airing of Grievances:
The beginning of the traditional Festivus dinner is the time for discussion. In Frank’s words; “At Festivus dinner, you gather your family around and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you in the past year!”
After everyone is very clear on how disappointing they have been since last Festivus, it is time for a family meal. At the original Festivus, a feast of meatloaf on a bed of lettuce was served. No alcohol is served, presumably because of the high cost to the host, but drinking from flasks is not frowned upon.
Feats of Strength:
After the traditional meatloaf, the head of the household challenges the guest of his choosing to a wrestling match.
Festivus cannot be considered over until the head of the household is pinned. The person challenged may opt-out but only if they have somewhere else to be. For instance, Kramer had to get back to work after breaking his strike to use the toilet at the bagel shop. In the episode, this left poor George to take the challenge.
(Q. Only one of the above is not from Dan O’Keefe’s father’s original Festivus. Can you guess which one? Answer at the end of the article.)
Truly bringing Festivus to the rest of us
Of course, Festivus is an entirely made-up holiday and can be celebrated in any way you like.
Much like Christmas, the modern Festivus has evolved since its humble beginnings at the O’Keefe family’s table. Now Festivus is most often celebrated with Seinfeld marathons and general remarks about the genius of the show.
Basically, if you have a party on the 23rd of December, you can watch Seinfeld and call it Festivus. There are a few ways though, to honour Festivus traditions while modernising its old-world, 1990s feel.
- The Airing of Grievances: ‘I’ve got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!’. This is how Frank Costanza began Festivus, but it may be wise to tone it down a little if you want to keep your friends and family around.Consider making this more like a roast. Let people know beforehand so everyone can prepare a few funny lines about each other. Keep it light and don’t hurt other people’s feelings. There’s no need for brutal honesty, remember what George said; ‘I’ll take a deceptive adult over an honest kid any day’.
- Festivus Dinner: The traditional meatloaf on lettuce may be a mouthwatering temptation but there is no reason not to mix it up. Whether you make a roast or seafood platters or just enjoy pizza on the couch, Festivus dinner is up to you. Soup is a good Seinfeld style option too, of course, then you get to shout “No soup for you!” to anyone brave enough to wear a puffy shirt!Come to think of it, Elaine’s boyfriend Puddy made a good point; “How come people don’t have dip for dinner? Why is it only a snack, why can’t it be a meal, you know?”Now’s your chance to make dip a meal (but no double-dipping). It’s also fine to serve alcohol if you want to. And remember, if you’re serving pretzels, make sure to have something to drink on hand. Pretzels will make people thirsty… ;)
- Feats of Strength: It’s probably best that your feats of strength don’t end in tears. It should be very much voluntary, don’t force people to participate.You can try to lift heavy things or arm wrestle or go with the traditional wrestling but try not to take it quite so seriously as Frank.
- The Aluminum Pole: The Aluminum Pole is perfect. With its very high strength to weight ratio and its complete lack of need for decoration, there is no reason to change the pole. Think of all the many ways it can be used after Festivus… as a makeshift clothes rack, for example.
- New Traditions: There’s certainly no harm in starting a few new Festivus traditions of your own. These days the most common is, of course, the Seinfeld Marathon. With all 9 seasons readily available on DVD or to stream on Stan, it has never been easier to watch Seinfeld.
- There is also the amazing Festivus Board game, fun for up to four players. This is the most official way to air your grievances and take on the feats of strength and well worth adding to your annual Festivus traditions.
- ‘Regifting’ is a great tradition to try out for Festivus in true Seinfeld style. This starts with everyone giving each other a small gift. Tell everyone to hold onto their gift because next Festivus it time to ‘regift’ and hand the gift on to someone else. See how many years you can make the same gift last for.
You could also make a donation to the ‘Human Fund’ but beware of being asked what this actually is.
“George: Hey, check this out. I gotta give Christmas presents at Kruger so I’m pulling a Whatley.
Jerry: A donation has been made in your name to the Human Fund. What is that?
George: Made it up.
Jerry: The Human Fund. Money for people.
George: What do you think?
Jerry: It has a certain understated stupidity.”
A special cocktail is available on the day to help you celebrate (with a non-alcoholic version available).
The Lantern Club is a great place to get together and celebrate Festivus and Seinfeld. Find the details on our website and come along for the perfect secular December celebration!
We wish you a Merry Festivus and a Happy New Year!
(A.: If you answered, Feats of Strength as the tradition made up for the TV show Seinfeld, you’re wrong. The O’Keefe family was indeed put to the test with this competition. In fact, the Aluminum Pole was the only tradition created purely for the show.)
Finally, a parting memory:
“Kramer: (on strike) No bagel, no bagel, no bagel, no bagel, no bagel, yow!”