For some, the holiday season is a time of sentimental embrace with loved ones and the sharing of gifts. But, if you’re tired of the schmaltz, caring and commercialism, then it’s time to stick up the aluminum pole, air your grievances and face off with those at the dinner table in the feats of strength. It’s “a Festivus for the rest of us.”
A quirky feature on the sitcom “Seinfeld,” almost 20 years ago, Festivus has grown into a widely observed tradition of its own. On the show, it was the brainchild of George Costanza’s father Frank, who decided to revive the holiday that so tormented George as a child at the urging of Kramer.
Emphasizing the non-commercial, non-religious foundations of the holiday, an unadorned aluminum pole is fixed in the corner of the room. As family, friends and a bizarre cabal of acquaintances gather round the dinner table, there is no relaying of thanks but instead the opportunity to make clear how each person has disappointed each other over the past 12 months. For the grand finale, there’s a rumble round the dinner table.
But the history of Festivus does not begin with the 1997 “Seinfeld” episode “The Strike.” For writer, Dan O’Keefe, the reality of the holiday stretched far beyond the screen.
“The details may have differed, but the pain and the peculiarity were very real,” O’Keefe said in the DVD commentary of the episode.
O’Keefe’s father came up with the holiday in the 1960s, initially to celebrate his late wife, the “Rest of us” being those still remaining after her death. Having been embarrassed when bringing it up to schoolmates as a child, the younger O’Keefe says he repressed the memory of Festivus until it got out to the other Seinfeld writers via his brother and he was compelled to put it into a script.
After been revived on the show, it has now become a major part of the culture. There is a website dedicated to selling Festivus poles, while they are also available to purchase on Amazon. And if you can’t get your hands on a pole, then you can always go with what O’Keefe’s father actually used for decoration: a clock in a bag.
In truth, that’s the only equipment needed to pull off a first-rate Festivus celebration of your own. The only other things that may be required are a good space near the dinner table for the “fests of strength” and an uninhibited mind for the “airing of grievances.”
But more elaborate celebrations can also be had. Since 2011, there has been a Festivus Games for novice and intermediate athletes to engage in feats of strength.
Whatever you do, don’t forget to punctuate the evening by labelling any regular occurrence a “Festivus miracle.”
The episode, along with every other “Seinfeld” episode, can be watched on Hulu. In the meantime, in order to get in the mood, here are some key quotes from the “Festivus” episode, all from its originator, Frank Costanza.