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Festivus is a non-denominational annual holiday created by writer Dan O'Keefe and introduced into popular culture by his son Daniel, a scriptwriter for the TV show Seinfeld as part of a comical storyline on the show. It has developed to include a festivus pole and traditional practices including feats of strength and the airing of grievances.

History

Although the original Festivus took place in February 1965 as a celebration of the elder O'Keefe's first date with his future wife, Deborah, many people now celebrate the holiday on December 23, as depicted on the December 18, 1997 Seinfeld episode "The Strike". According to O'Keefe, the name Festivus "just popped into his head".

Practices

The holiday includes novel practices such as the "Airing of Grievances", in which each person tells everyone else all the ways they have disappointed him or her over the past year. Also, after the Festivus 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. These conventions originated with the TV episode. The original holiday featured far more peculiar practices, as detailed in the younger Daniel O'Keefe's book The Real Festivus, which provides a first-person account of an early version of the Festivus holiday as celebrated by the O'Keefe family, and how O'Keefe amended or replaced details of his father's invention to create the Seinfeld episode.

Some people, influenced or inspired by Seinfeld, now celebrate the holiday in varying degrees of seriousness; the spread of Festivus in the real world is chronicled in the book Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us.

Rituals

Festivus is introduced in the Seinfeld episode entitled "The Strike", which revolves around Cosmo Kramer returning to work at H&H Bagels. He does so after learning that a 12-year strike in which he participated has ended (because the minimum wage has risen to the level of the wages demanded by the workers twelve years earlier). Kramer becomes interested in resurrecting the holiday when at the bagel shop, Frank Costanza tells him how he created Festivus as an alternative holiday in response to the commercialization of Christmas.

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!
Kramer: That must have been some doll.
Frank Costanza: She was.


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 US$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 religious 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 Festivus is real.

Festivus Pole

In the episode, although not in the original O'Keefe Family celebration, the tradition of Festivus begins with an aluminum pole. During Festivus, the Festivus Pole is displayed unadorned. The basics of the Festivus pole are explained by Frank in two separate situations:

Cosmo Kramer: And is there a tree?
Frank Costanza: No, instead, there's a pole. It requires no decoration. I find tinsel distracting.


Frank Costanza: It's made from aluminum. Very high strength-to-weight ratio.


When not being used, the Festivus Pole is stored in the Costanzas' crawlspace.

Festivus Dinner

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. 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 O'Keefe's The Real Festivus. In Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us by Allen Salkin, modern observances of Festivus tend to feature heavy drinking. In the Seinfeld episode, no alcohol is served, but George Costanza's boss, Mr. Kruger, drinks from a flask.

Airing of Grievances

The celebration of Festivus begins with Airing of Grievances, which takes place immediately after the Festivus dinner has been served. It consists of lashing out at others and the world about how one has been disappointed in the past year. Every household has its own traditions; in one house, the Airing of Grievances consisted of writing the grievances on the fridge in marker.

Frank Costanza: And at the Festivus dinner, you gather your family around, and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year!


Frank Costanza: 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. You, Kruger. My son tells me your company STINKS!
George Costanza: Oh, God.


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. Traditionally, the head of the household selects one person at the Festivus celebration and challenges that person to a wrestling match. The person may decline if they have something else to do, such as pull a double shift at work. 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 actually entailed was revealed at the very end of the episode, when it actually took place. Failing to pin the head of the household resulted in banishment from that Festivus. In modern practice, this is typically accomplished by the failed pinner being restrained outside (or given the potential cold conditions under which Festivus occurs, being restrained in the most secluded portion of that location) for some amount of time (e.g., 10 minutes) until rejoining the party.

Jerry Seinfeld: And wasn't there a Feats of Strength that always ended up with you crying?
George Costanza: I can't take it anymore! I'm going to work! Are you happy now?!


Frank Costanza: I've brought one of the cassette tapes.
Frank Costanza (on a tape recorder): Read that poem.
George Costanza (on a tape recorder): I can't read it, I need my glasses.
Frank Costanza (on a tape recorder): You don't need glasses! You're just weak, weak!
Estelle Costanza (on a tape recorder): Leave him alone!
Frank Costanza (on a tape recorder): All right, George. It's time for the Festivus Feats of Strength!
George Costanza: No! No! Turn it off! No Feats of Strength! I hate Festivus!
Frank Costanza: We had some good times.


Festivus Miracles

Although it is not an official element of the holiday or its celebration, the phenomenon of the Festivus Miracle is mentioned twice in the original episode, both times occurring in the Costanza household, and both declared by Cosmo Kramer.

Miracle #1;
Sleazy Guy: Hello again, Miss Benes.
Elaine Benes: What are you doing here?
Sleazy Guy: Damndest thing. Me and Charlie were calling to ask you out, and, uh, we got this bagel place.
Cosmo Kramer: I told them I was just about to see you. It's a Festivus Miracle!


Miracle #2;
Gwen: Jerry!
Jerry Seinfeld: Gwen! How did you know I was here?
Gwen: Kramer told me!
Cosmo Kramer: Another Festivus Miracle!!
Jerry Seinfeld: (gives Kramer a murderous glare)


Etymology and origin

Festivus (with long "i", festīvus) is a Latin word, but not the name of a festival: in one reference it is said to mean "festive". A scholarly work on the etymology of the word by Dr. Brian A. Krostenko summarized in Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us, concludes that in ancient Rome the word evolved, referring at times to the way the common folk would misbehave on official religious holidays and at other times to a certain snooty attitude amongst the higher classes. It is possible that the elder O'Keefe, who was studying ancient rituals, knew this etymology and adapted it for his family's holiday. The English word festive derives from festīvus, which in turn derives from festus "joyous; holiday, feast day".

In the 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 the elder O'Keefe's mother.

The elder O'Keefe wrote a book that deals with idiosyncratic ritual and its social significance, a theme with great relevance to Festivus tradition.

Festivus in popular culture and the real world

  • Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us is the name of a book by Allen Salkin about the celebration of Festivus in the real world.
  • The Wagner Companies of Milwaukeemarker, Wisconsinmarker, began manufacturing Festivus Poles for the 2005 season.
  • "Festivus" was the name of a seasonal Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor made in 2000 and 2001 in honor of the holiday. In 2004, the flavor made its return as "Gingerbread Cookie", and has since been retired to the Ben & Jerry's Flavor Graveyard.
  • "Festivus" is a term used by the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League (NFL) and their fans to denote the NFL Playoffs. During the 2000 season, Ravens head coach Brian Billick banned his players from using the word "playoffs" during the season as he wanted his players to focus on every game and not look ahead. Players substituted the term "festivus" for playoffs and "festivus maximus" for the Super Bowl. The Ravens eventually went on to win the Super Bowl that season.
  • The Brisbane, Australiamarker marketing organization has adopted the name "Festivus" to refer to its summer holidays program of events.
  • A 2004 episode of Jeopardy! had a Seinfeld-themed round, featuring a category entitled Festivus, in which contestants answered questions about holidays. This was the final episode in which long-time champion Ken Jennings played, until returning for the Ultimate Tournament of Champions.
  • In 2005, Wisconsinmarker Governor Jim Doyle was declared "Governor Festivus" and displayed a Festivus pole in the family room of the Executive Residence in Madison, Wisconsin during that holiday season. Governor Doyle's 2005 Festivus pole is now part of the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Museum.
  • In 2007, the Santa Barbara Brewing Company in Santa Barbaramarker, Californiamarker, featured "Festivus: An Ale For The Rest Of Us", as their winter seasonal. The beer was a Brown Ale fermented with Belgian yeast.
  • In 2007, a Wisconsin man requested permission to erect a Festivus pole next to Green Baymarker City Hall's nativity scene as a tongue-in-cheek response to public religious and anti-religious displays.
  • Begun in January 2008, The Festivus Film Festival, based in Denver, Coloradomarker. Called "the film fest for the rest of us", the annual January festival highlights "truly independent" films and filmmakers.
  • On 5 December 2008, the Five Points district in Columbia, South Carolinamarker held the city's first ever Festivus.
  • In December 2008, in response to an antireligious sign displayed near a nativity scene, and the influx of requests for other displays, the Washington State Capitolmarker approved (among other things) a private citizen to have a Festivus Pole displayed. Governor Christine Gregoire eventually placed a moratorium on further additions to the Capitol display which stopped the Festivus Pole from being erected.
  • Connecticut Collegemarker celebrates Festivus as a campus wide formal event every year in early December. Some aspects have been added to the holiday's traditions including the SPAM and Keystone party in which participants drink as much cheap beer and eat as much SPAM as possible.
  • In 2008, a Festivus pole was erected in the rotunda of the Illinois Capitol building located in Springfield, Illinoismarker by an 18 year old student, Mike Tennenhouse with help from his brother Matt Tennenhouse. He was "airing grievances" on behalf of the people of Illinois with Governor Rod Blagojevich. The Illinois House was meeting just down the hall from the Festivus pole to discuss the start of impeachment proceedings.
  • The Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. allowed for the "airing of grievances" on bulletin boards attached to a kiosk. A business group supplied notepads, pushpins, and pens for the community to participate in the Festivus tradition. Grievances were then aired by a town crier in a jester hat on the following Saturday and Sunday at noon.
  • Students at Briar Cliff Universitymarker in Sioux Citymarker, Iowamarker celebrate Festivus as a large year ending party (usually in April), involving most of the small Liberal Arts college's population. Festivus lasts three days and the students camp out and celebrate all day and night. The party features bands, cooking out and the Beer Olympics. It was started in 1997, is run entirely by the students and continues to this day.
  • In 2004, the University of Richmondmarker officially changed the name of their annual Spring "Pig Roast" event to "Festivus". Most students still refer to it as Pig Roast.


References

  1. David Mercer, Capitol Festivus pole goes up, and gripes begin Chicago Tribune, December 24, 2008
  2. Steve Schmadeke, Festivus display at Illinois Capitol Chicago Tribune, December 24, 2008
  3. Petula Dvorak, [1] Washington Post, December 18, 2008


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