Tomorrow marks that most mundane of holidays. No, I’m not talking about Joseph Smith’s birthday. I’m talking about Festivus.
Most people are aware of Festivus , the December 23rd holiday invented and celebrated by Frank Costanza on Seinfeld. But did you know that this tradition has much deeper roots and is a longer-standing tradition, harking all the way back to 1966? Yes, it predates travel to the moon.
For those unfamiliar with this anti-consumerist holiday, here’s a quick primer. The word Festivus is a Latin word meaning “joyous, holiday feast day” that creator Dan O’Keefe says “just popped into my head.” O’Keefe, a writer, also worked on the sitcom Seinfeld and introduced Festivus to the mainstream public in the episode called “The Strike” in 1997. It is intended to be both a parody holiday festival, “a Festivus for the rest of us,” and an act of resistance against the consumerism that pervades the season.
The holiday includes specific traditions:
The Festivus Pole. Rather than a menorah or a Christmas tree, Festivus includes an unadorned aluminum pole with a base. This symbolizes the rejection of holiday materialism. A good pole will have an admirable strength-to-weight ratio. Tinsel is eschewed, and indeed, Frank Costanza finds it “distracting.” We wouldn’t want to distract from the spirit of the season!
Festivus Poles can be purchased online for around $31 plus shipping & handling, but Frank Costanza would never do something so commercial as it goes against the spirit of the season. Festivus Poles should be found in the “crawl space” and that’s where they are returned at the end of the celebration. The spirit of the season is cheap and easy. Whatever you find in the attic is good enough.
The Festivus Dinner. A traditional Festivus meal is sliced meatloaf on a bed of lettuce. Alcohol is not served. Because the Seinfeld episode was originally aired prior to HDTV, the image wasn’t clear, and some early adopters of the Festivus tradition thought the traditional meal was spaghetti. As a result, some households serve a “traditional meal” of spaghetti and meatloaf. A dessert tradition is the Pepperidge Farm cake decorated with M&Ms.
In the O’Keefe household, the meal usually consisted of turkey or ham, which sounds suspiciously Christmas-like. The Festivus website recommends other Seinfeld foodstuffs like: a box of raisins, Fusilli, Big Salad, muffin tops (Top o’ the Muffin to Ya!), Cinnamon (the lesser) Babka, antique wedding cake, Jujyfruits, scrambled eggs with lobster, and so forth. You could even serve soup, but it must be served to your guests in minimalist, exacting Soup Nazi style.
Other traditions are relaxed table manners, the wearing of funny hats, and making Play-Doh sculptures that are judged by the mother.
The Airing of Grievances. This is of course the most memorable part of the Festivus celebration. After the meal is served, family members tell each other all the ways they’ve disappointed each other throughout the last year.
For those who are more shy or conflict averse, airing grievances about absent people, celebrities, political or sports figures is an acceptable alternative. Another option is writing grievances on post it notes and attaching them to the Festivus Pole.
Frank begins the tradition:
“Welcome, new comers. 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!”
New comers and guests are never exempt:
“You, Kruger. My son tells me your company stinks! You couldn’t smooth a silk sheet if you had a hot date with a babe…I lost my train of thought.”
Feats of Strength. Perhaps the strangest part of the tradition, one that only came about on the Seinfeld episode, not in the original O’Keefe tradition, is the so-called Feats of Strength. The head of the household chooses a sparring partner, and the holiday only ends when that person has pinned the head of household. If the person chosen can’t do it, others can suggest a sparring partner. The match begins when the head of household removes any bulky layers and yells, “Let’s rumble!”
The other celebrants are not always in the fighting mood, but Feats of Strength are a tradition. In the words of Frank Costanza:
“Stop crying, and fight your father!”
Festivus does not end until the head of household is pinned. This could be either a really long holiday or a sad and short one.
Oddly enough, Festivus has become widely adopted since the episode aired. You can check out the Festivus website here.
In the spirit of Festivus, “You people have disappointed me!” Here are a few of my grievances for 2015.
People who thrive on drama. You know who you are. As Lucille Bluth says, you people make me want to set myself on fire. Just because you like drama in your life doesn’t mean I want it in my life. I like my drama like I like British men: repressed, uncommunicative, and in period costume.
Pinnacle Nissan’s sales company. I bought my Juke new in 2013. No, I don’t want to trade up to this year’s model every 5 days when you people call me. And despite repeatedly asking that you stop calling me, nobody is capable of getting me off the calling list. Everyone is so apologetic and assures me I won’t be called again, but five days later, there you are, calling me again.
Whichever one of our cats thinks the futon is a backup litterbox. We don’t know which one of you selfish bastards is doing this, but we are watching you. We are watching you watching us. Also, please quit destroying the carpet under the bedroom doors.
The people who keep parking in my space. It’s a numbered parking space that says “Reserved” right on it. I’m paying for two parking spaces, so quit parking in my space!
Panera Bread Company. Panera was the poor man’s alternative to Paradise Baking Company (which is an Arizona-based company). In states where Paradise didn’t exist, if we were slumming, we would go to Panera as an alternative. But now, Panera has bought Paradise, and what’s worse, even here in Arizona, they are turning the Paradises into Paneras. Nooooo! Also, what’s up with posting the calories of everything? Even the desserts?? Who wants to know that? I was estimating a cookie at 50 calories, but no, now I have to openly acknowledge that they are 300-400 calories! Why don’t you just go into day cares and spoil Christmas for everyone? Of course Wildflower is better than both of them, but still.
Time to open up for the airing of grievances. Who has disappointed you in 2015?
 I find Mormons on the whole to be very well versed in Seinfeld and have successfully pop-referenced Seinfeld episodes in Gospel Doctrine. The lost gospel?