What is Festivus? Here’s how to celebrate for ‘the rest of us’

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Festivus is here. And in 2020, the rest of us have more grievances than ever to air. 

What exactly is Festivus? You could call it the Festival of Fights. The fictitious holiday first came to light on the sitcom “Seinfeld,” in the Dec. 18, 1997, final-season episode titled “The Strike.”

Festivus is an annual Dec. 23 celebration, of sorts, started by George Costanza’s (Jason Alexander) father, Frank (played by the late great Jerry Stiller), who created the twisted observance after an unfortunate department store tussle over a doll with another customer when George was a kid.

The horrendous holiday, a statement against crass commercialization, includes forgoing a Christmas tree for an “unadorned aluminum pole” — which is decoration-free “mainly because tinsel is too distracting,” explains Frank — and an “airing of grievances” around the dinner table about how others disappointed you over the past year.

With the coronavirus pandemic in full swing in 2020 — not to mention the loss of Stiller himself, who died in May at 92 years old — the concept of looking back on a disappointing year is not so foreign this time around. In fact, it’s almost fitting.  

Many took to social media to air their long list of complaints and gripes. The list was almost too long, as user @DuaneBonifer pointed out: “I might need an extra day this year to air all of my grievances.”

 

The faux festival also features a “feats of strength” wrestling match between father and son. “Until you pin me, George, Festivus is not over!” Frank announces to his scarred-for-life offspring in the episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s Emmy-winning series.

Thus “a Festivus for the rest of us” was born — though the holiday was really created by “Seinfeld” writer Dan O’Keefe’s father, Dan Sr., in the 1960s and later re-purposed for the series, for which he can thank his brother, Mark.

“My loudmouth brother opens his yap about it at a party where the producers of ‘Seinfeld’ were, and they get interested,” the younger Dan O’Keefe explained in a 2017 interview, adding that the outlandish observance was “something that brought my family together in a shared hatred.” He told the producers he thought it was “actually just kind of horrifying” and “too weird,” but Seinfeld himself was intrigued, so O’Keefe allowed them to use it in the show.

“We put it on TV, and — I wouldn’t say the rest is history — the rest is a brief pop-culture footnote, but it’s a marginally interesting one, I guess,” he said. (O’Keefe even wrote a 2005 book about it, titled “The Real Festivus.”)

And just how popular is Festivus more than two decades after the “Seinfeld” episode? Festivus sweaters — to be worn at your annual Festivus party — are available on Amazon and elsewhere. Even Orlando International Airport notes that the vertical metal poles on their automated people movers are tinsel-free and have “very high strength-to-weight ratio” that makes them perfect for observing the annual “holiday.”

And Dictionary.com tweeted that the definition for “kvetch” is “to complain, especially chronically,” much like George’s father does in the episode. “It’s also incredibly fun to say. Consider this a happy Festivus gift to you and yours,” the wordsmiths added.





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