The Real History of Festivus

The Real History of Festivus
Photo: ValeStock, Shutterstock

Festivus, sometimes called “The Seinfeld Holiday,” is an annual parody holiday celebrated on December 23 that was invented for “The Strike,” a 1997 episode of NBC’s sitcom Seinfeld.

In the Seinfeld universe, Festivus was created by George Costanza’s father Frank because he “hated all the commercial and religious aspects of the holidays.” You can stream Seinfeld on Netflix.

How to celebrate Festivus

A Festivus dinner, as portrayed on Seinfeld, has four major components: The Festivus pole, the airing of grievances, the feats of strength, and the tape-recording. There aren’t a ton of details, so feel free to embellish however you’d like.

The Festivus dinner

A close look at the Seinfeld episode reveals that a traditional Festivus dinner consists of meatloaf served on a bed of lettuce, a single bowl of peas, a single bowl of mashed potatoes, and gravy in a gravy boat.

You should invite people you barely know that you’ve had an amusing or awkward interaction with recently, like the scummy guys from the racetrack or the person you’re dating who sometimes looks pretty and sometimes does not. You will never see these people again, as they will be replaced by a guy who does a weird a thing with his hand, or that lady who always wears pink.

The Festivus pole

The Festivus pole is made of aluminium and should be undecorated. According to Frank Costanza, the pole is aluminium because of aluminium’s “high weight-to-strength ratio.” It is unadorned because tinsel is distracting. And, why yes, you can buy a Festivus pole online.

The airing of grievances

Based on the show, the grievances are aired by the patriarch of the family or the host of the Festivus dinner. Begin by saying, “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people,” then start airing those grievances, telling your guests all the ways they’ve disappointed you over the year. Include everyone at the table. You don’t want anyone feeling left out.

The feats of strength

Like all Festivus traditions, the feats of strength are perpetrated on the guests by their host. On the show, the feat is an offscreen wrestling match between a father and son. The Festivus dinner cannot end until someone is pinned.

It’s clear that the feats of strength and the rest of Festivus were designed for Frank to traumatize and terrorize his family. Even in a fictional context, this is disturbing. If you ever really celebrate Festivus, I hope your child wins the wrestling match.

The tape recorder

Festivus celebrations should be recorded on a cassette so that the recordings can be used as expositional material on future episodes of the sitcom of your life.

Is Festivus a real holiday?

What is real, anyway? Festivus was made up for a TV show, but every year since the 1997, people have been celebrating it. And didn’t every holiday begin with someone making up dumb traditions? So yes, Virginia, there is a Festivus.

Who invented the real-life Festivus?

Festivus was largely created by Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe, whose father really did invent a traumatising holiday called “Festivus.”

Unlike the TV version, O’Keefe’s Festivus was celebrated sporadically, on no specific date, and did not feature a pole or feats of strength. The “real” Festivus was themed. For instance, in 1977, the Festivus theme was “Are we derepressed? Yes!”

Interestingly, the tape-recorder was an important part of the real holiday, and recordings of the O’Keefe family’s Festivus celebrations make up a large chunk of The Real Festivus: The True Story Behind America’s Favourite Made-up Holiday, a book written by O’Keefe.

What does ‘a Festivus for the rest of us’ mean?

The phrase “a Festivus for the rest of us” was coined by O’Keefe’s father. “The rest of us” refers to the members of the family who remained after his wife died, so the “rest of us” are the living. It’s a pretty dark holiday.

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