“A Festivus for the rest of us!” – Frank Costanza
Dear friends, Festivus is fast approaching (Dec. 23). Don’t worry I didn’t get you anything either. That’s okay because Festivus is not that kind of celebration.
While Festivus was technically created in the 60s by writer Dan O’Keefe, the holiday as it exists today was introduced to us by the great Frank Costanza (via O’Keefe’s screenwriter son who wrote it into the script) in one of the best Seinfeld episodes of all time, “The Strike.” This 1997 episode was packed with legendary antics and one-liners that would quickly become part of our vernacular (“The Human Fund,” the “Two Face,” Kramer on strike: “It’s a walk out!” Elaine’s sub card, etc.), but the introduction of Festivus spawned something transcendent: an actual holiday that is observed around the world to this day. It is officially a thing. And while invented for comedic purposes, perhaps other major holidays could learn something from the traditions of this special day?
Festivus means different things to different people, so I can only offer what it means to me. But together, I hope we can unearth the true meaning of Festivus.
To kick things off, let us begin with… the Airing of Grievances.
Being Open and Honest – While Christmastime beckons forced mirth, unmerited goodwill, frivolity and frenzied Toyota-thon shopping urgency, Festivus offers a more sensible, temperate alternative. Festivus is a time of quiet introspection, where one can soberly mark the passing of another year among family and friends. It’s also a time to take stock of last year’s failures and disappointments; and openly vent pent-up hostility toward those around us. Festivus is about honesty, really.
While we don’t condone verbal assaults here at TMF, we absolutely endorse truth telling – even when painful. A little tip: Before airing your grievances, offer a platitude like, “That’s a nice hat.” This will help soften the blow before voicing your concerns about their new significant other, ripping their blog, complaining about the backlog of “Two Broke Girls” clogging up the DVR, or telling them how you really feel about that new tattoo. The Airing of Grievances is a delicate yet necessary component of the Festivus celebration – and dare I say life itself?
This seems like a healthy exercise every family should do at least once a year.
Rejecting Rampant Consumerism, Excess – The nondescript Festivus Pole stands in stark contrast to the needlessly extravagant decorations many feel compelled to fill their homes with during the holiday season. No fragrant, majestic tree festooned with flashy lights, just an aluminum pole.
An important part of Festivus is this notion that we should be happy with what we have; appreciative of small and perhaps even ugly things.
Frank’s recollection of battling a rabble of shoppers to secure a holiday gift for George explains where this idea was birthed, “As I rained blows upon him, I realized there must be a better way.”
For The Rest Of Us – To me, the term “Festivus for the rest of us!” reflects an inclusive, welcoming call for unity for all those who feel left out or disillusioned by what the holiday season has become.
There is a seat at the Festivus table for everyone (provided you condone the airing of grievances and feats of strength).
Embracing Miracles – Just because Festivus features strident austerity and bitter contempt, doesn’t mean there isn’t room for whimsical fancy! Anything can happen on a Festivus eve if you truly believe… It’s a Festivus miracle!
Feats of Strength – Last but not least, Festivus concludes with the Feats of Strength. This final component of the holiday offers participants the opportunity to assert their physical dominance by pinning the Festivus host, and thus bringing the holiday to an end. This is a very practical idea that gives families the chance to officially crown the mightiest or cagiest among them.
So as you can see, Festivus is a very real holiday with some sneakily profound truths. Except for perhaps the Feats of Strength. Not much to learn there. But the other Festivus attributes of being honest and open, shunning the glorification of consumerism, being more inclusive, and embracing miracles – now those are well worth celebrating.
*This post is dedicated to Ty, whose love of Seinfeld is surpassed only by his inexplicable devotion to the Miami Dolphins. Happy Festivus bud.
**“Frank invented a holiday? He’s so prolific!” – Kramer