Festivus, or “a festival for the rest of us,” entered popular culture when it was featured in the 1997 “Seinfeld” episode “The Strike.” George Costanza’s father Frank Constanza decides to wage a one-man war on Christmas. Instead of celebrating the widely-commercialized holiday, Frank starts his own tradition: Festivus.
Festivus is a secular holiday that falls on Dec. 23 to “get a leg up on Christmas.” To celebrate, an aluminum pole — the Festivus pole — is set up in a living room or backyard and requires no decoration. After a Festivus meal, those who celebrate the holiday must air their grievances with each other and take part in feats of strength, like wrestling.
“It’s a good way to peacefully rebel against holiday consumerism culture while still getting friends together to celebrate a holiday,” said Devon Ryle, a senior music major who celebrates the holiday.
Festivus was a real holiday for “Seinfeld” writer Dan O’Keefe. O’Keefe’s father invented the holiday when O’Keefe was about eight years old, according to a 2016 Time article. O’Keefe grew up celebrating Festivus, but without the now-traditional “Festivus pole”, which acts as the centerpiece for the holiday, a detail added in the Seinfeld episode. O’Keefe was convinced by fellow writers to include Festivus as a subplot for the “Seinfeld” episode when they caught wind of the unique holiday.
O’Keefe finally agreed, including the traditions of airing grievances, feats of strength and the tagline “a festival for the rest of us.”
“(That) was an actual family Festivus motto,” O’Keefe said in a 2009 interview with the Washington Post.
Ryle still celebrates Hanukkah and Christmas, but started celebrating Festivus two years ago in addition to the two holidays. Ryle’s sister and his sister’s husband also celebrate the holiday. Ryle’s version of Festivus is not as intense as the show, he said. He believes people can use their imagination and come up with their own version of the holiday.
“For the (airing of) grievances, we anonymously share things about each other and make fun of petty things,” Ryle said. “It can get real personal or real silly.”
Ryle said instead of wrestling for the feats of strength, his family plays games like Mario Kart and Cards Against Humanity, and they elect a “champion” at the end of the night. Ryle puts the Festivus aluminum pole in the living room each year. However, one year his sister “was lazy” and didn’t get the pole, so she brought a cardboard roll and covered it in tin foil instead.
“I want to spread the word about Festivus this year,” Ryle said. “It has a heartwarming sentimentality to it.”
Samantha McCann, a junior psychology major, also celebrates the holiday. Her father and grandfather are big fans of “Seinfeld,” she said, and her family has celebrated it for the past 10 years.
“For the feats of strength, my dad will joke about how me and my sister should fight, but we never do,” McCann said. “(For the airing of grievances) my dad also knows better than to list every problem he has with us. We would just throw it right back at him.”
The first time the McCann family celebrated Festivus, some of McCann’s extended family relatives were upset, and said it was “sacrilegious” and “overshadowing” Christmas, but that hasn’t stopped them.
“We always have the same dinner: a tater tot hot dish, which is a food from (my father’s) childhood, since in the show, (Festivus) was about George’s childhood.”
McCann’s father puts a Festivus pole in the front yard, and gets a kick out of quoting the show “over and over again,” McCann said.
“I don’t know why he likes it so much, but it’s fun watching him enjoy it,” McCann said.