Festivus is not only a secular celebration of Christmas that takes place on December 23rd, it is a new and growing event in the calendar with it's own set of traditions and rituals.
The event was made famous by the American Sitcom Seinfeld, in the episode titled The Strike (Season 9, Episode 10). It is introduced and explained to be a less commercial celebration, and an alternative to Christmas.
Since that episode first aired on December 16th 1997, and particularly in the last 5 years, the celebration has gained traction with the public. It is now widely celebrated among those who believe Christmas has become too commercial, or who do not wish to celebrate Christmas because of their faith/beliefs.
In the episode The Strike, the first mention of Festivus is in the second scene. Jerry Seinfeld is chatting with Elaine and George in a diner when Jerry asks about a card that George is holding in his hand. It transpires that the card is from George's dad, Frank, and it says 'Dear Son, Happy Festivus'
Later in the same episode Frank is explaining the origins of Festivus to Kramer and he says the following:
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 realised there had to be another way. [...] It was destroyed but out of that a new holiday was born, a Festivus for the rest of us.
Although the traditions of Festivus are entirely created by the script writers of Seinfeld, many of them have become popular in homes across the country:
The Undecorated aluminium pole
As mentioned by Frank, in the place of a Christmas tree, the home is decorated by a single aluminum pole held up on a stand, one which he stores in his 'crawl space'. The reason Frank gives is that it requires no decorating, and that he finds tinsel distracting.
Christmas poles can now be found and bought online, with some families, and particularly fans on Seinfeld, choosing to decorate their home with one. In fact, the aluminum pole has become so ubiquitous with the occasion that if you google Festivus an aluminum pole appears on the left side of the search engine!
According to the book 'Festivus: The holiday for the rest of us' by Allen Salkin, here are a few festive dishes to be served at Festivus to whet your appetite:
- Shrimp impaled On Mini Festivus Poles.
- Ham with junior mint and snapple glaze.
- Festive pole stuffed with chocolate salami and bitter nibs.
And why not wash this all down with a glass of 'Don't Make Me Punch You Punch'
Whilst this suggestions were made tongue-in-cheek, the truth is there is no ritual to follow in terms of the Festivus meal. During the episode of Seinfeld the family can be seen to be eating meatloaf and salad, but this is not the only option. The food should be simple and quick to cook, nothing as long and drawn out as the cooking of a turkey, for example.
Airing of grievances
The airing of grievances is an important part of Festivus. This is the point during the meal when everyone gets the chance to say just how much they have been disappointed by everyone else.
Feats of strength
As implied during the episode of Seinfeld the feat of strength is a wrestling match between George and his father, and is the moment of the festival that George looks forward to least.
An earlier creation
Although featuring on Seinfeld, the script writer Dan O'Keefe has explained in interviews that the idea itself wasn't exactly his creation and that it has origins in his own childhood.
Festivus was created by the father of Dan O'Keefe, Daniel O'Keefe, and whilst the rituals and traditions may have been very different, the principles were the same. Festivus was a rejection of Christmas and the commercial aspect of it, in favor of a more relaxed and informal celebration.
A Festivus for the rest of us
Festivus may have become a symbol of a commerial free christmas, however quite ironically, as cards, presents, and even aluminum poles become more and more common on online market places, Festivus runs the risk of becoming just as commercial. And so the very thing that Daniel O'Keefe, and Frank Costanza were avoiding.
Regardless, as Festivus has grown it has become a global celebration. Enjoyed by families and coworkers, the religious and the secular, fans and strangers of the series Seinfeld; it has become both a silly bit of fun, and also a symbol of anti-capitalism. It is indeed 'A Festivus for the rest of us'.