From Academic Kids

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Frank Costanza (played by Jerry Stiller) holds the aluminum pole his family has used in past Festivus celebrations to Jerry Seinfeld (played by himself)

Festivus is a nondenominational holiday featured in an episode of Seinfeld, a popular American television sitcom of the 1990s. It was featured on episode number 166 of the show, entitled The Strike, which first aired on December 18, 1997. Many people, influenced or inspired by Seinfeld, now celebrate, in varying degrees of seriousness, the holiday in real life.

Festivus is celebrated each year on December 23. Its slogan is "A Festivus for the rest of us!"

The character Frank Costanza (played by Jerry Stiller) created it as an alternative holiday in response to the commercialization of Christmas. He explained its origins during the episode to the character Cosmo Kramer (played by Michael Richards), as related in the following dialogue:

Frank Costanza: 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 realized there had to be another way.
Cosmo Kramer: What happened to the doll?
Frank Costanza: It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born . . . a Festivus for the rest of us!
Cosmo Kramer: That must've been some kind of doll.
Frank Costanza: She sure was!

In the episode, Kramer had become interested in resurrecting the holiday after hearing the plight of his friend—Frank Costanza's son—George (played by Jason Alexander), who used the holiday celebration he hated in his youth as a defensive excuse to his employer, Kruger (played by Daniel Von Bargen). George had been confronted by Kruger after handing out cards for Christmas to his fellow employees stating a donation had been made to a fake charity (invented by George) called The Human Fund (with the slogan "Money For People") in lieu of exchanging Christmas presents. George defended himself saying that he feared persecution for his beliefs, for not celebrating Christmas. Calling his bluff, Kruger came home with George to see Festivus in action.


Main elements of Festivus

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The Airing of Grievances

The Festivus celebration includes three major components:

  • The Festivus Pole: During Festivus, an unadorned aluminum pole is displayed, apparently in opposition to the commercialization of decorated Christmas trees, and because the holiday's creator, Frank Costanza, "find[s] tinsel distracting." Local customs have changed and you may be able to decorate your pole with non-threatening plain decorations.
  • The Airing of Grievances: At the Festivus dinner, each participant tells friends and family all of the instances where they disappointed him or her that year.
  • The Feats of Strength: The head of the family tests his or her strength against one participant of the head's choosing. Festivus is not considered over until the head of the family has been pinned to the ground. A participant is allowed to decline to attempt to pin the head of the family only if they have something better to do instead.

While not an official element of the holiday or its celebration, the phenomenon of the Festivus Miracle should not be overlooked. When, at one point in the episode, the bookie inadvertently found Kramer and Elaine (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus) at the Bagel Shop, Kramer enthusiastically said: "It's A Festivus Miracle!" Kramer reported another "Festivus Miracle" when Gwen found Jerry at the Costanza home (despite Kramer's previous directions to Gwen). In truth, a Festivus miracle is a second rate occurrence, or no more than a coincidence. Therefore, calling any event a "Festivus Miracle" is in reality very weak praise.


The Festivus idea came to the show through writer Daniel O'Keefe. His father, Dan O'Keefe, had invented a Festivus holiday in 1966, including many of the features later included in Seinfeld. He was inspired in part by the Samuel Beckett play Krapp's Last Tape, whose protagonist tapes himself speaking at different times in his life; the original Airing of Grievances was spoken into a tape recorder, and the O'Keefe family retains some of the tapes. (The father's career as a Reader's Digest editor meant internal politics of that organization are prominently featured; external grievances were permitted.) The O'Keefe tradition did not have a set date, but would take place in response to family tension, "any time from December to May" (Salkin). The phrase "a Festivus for the rest of us" also derived from an O'Keefe family event, the death of the elder O'Keefe's mother. The holiday made it onto Seinfeld after the writing team was amused by O'Keefe's retelling.

The elder O'Keefe wrote the 1982 book Stolen Lightning: A Social Theory of Magic ISBN 0826400590; the work deals with idiosyncratic ritual and its social significance; a theme with obvious relevance to Festivus.

Festivus-related trivia

  • Festivus was the name of a flavor (mostly gingerbread) of Ben and Jerry's ice cream in 2001. Named after the fictitious holiday, the flavor has since been renamed "Gingerbread Cookie."
  • Festivus is also the name of a red wine produced by Grape Ranch Vineyards in Oklahoma.
  • Oh Festivus, also known as the "Festivus Song", was first sung in Dallas, TX bars and taverns in the 2004/2005 holiday season.

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