Today many celebrate the secular holiday Festival of Festivus


For every Grinch and all those others who opt out of the traditional year end celebrations of Chanukkah and Christmas you have another choice that is celebrated today. It’s the Festival of Festivus where there is no religious connotation. Anyone can celebrate this holiday. You can purchase a green 6 foot aluminum festivous pole at for $39 plus shipping. The collapsible poles, made of recycled material, are produced in Milwaukee, Wisc. They have been featured on the Today Show along with other network channels.

“Festivus is a secular holiday celebrated on December 23rd. It was created by writer Dan O’Keefe and introduced into popular culture by his son Daniel, a screenwriter for the TV show Seinfeld as part of a comical storyline on the show. The holiday’s celebration, as shown on Seinfeld, includes an aluminum “Festivus pole”, practices such as the “Airing of Grievances” and the “Feats of Strength”, and the labeling of easily explainable events as “Festivus miracles.”

Celebrants of the holiday sometimes refer to it as “Festivus for the rest of us”, a saying taken from the O’Keefe family traditions and popularized in the Seinfeld episode to describe Festivus as “another way” to celebrate the season without participating in its pressures and commercialism.

Although the original Festivus took place in February 1966, as a celebration of the elder O’Keefe’s first date with his future wife, Deborah, it is now celebrated on December 23, as depicted on the December 18, 1997 Seinfeld episode “The Strike”.

The holiday, as portrayed in the Seinfeld episode and now celebrated by many, includes practices such as the “Airing of Grievances”, which occurs during the Festivus meal and in which each person tells everyone else all the ways they have disappointed him or her over the past year. After the meal the “Feats of Strength” are performed, involving wrestling the head of the household to the floor, with the holiday ending only if the head of the household is actually pinned.

The original holiday featured more peculiar practices, as detailed in the younger Daniel O’Keefe’s book The Real Festivus. The book provides a first-person account of an early version of the Festivus holiday as celebrated by the O’Keefe family, and how O’Keefe amended or replaced details of his father’s invention to create the Seinfeld episode.

Some people, influenced or inspired by Seinfeld, now celebrate the holiday in varying degrees of seriousness; the beginning of the spread of Festivus is chronicled in the 2005 book Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us by Allen Salkin.

Festivus is introduced in the Seinfeld episode which revolves around Cosmo Kramer returning to work at H&H Bagels. He does so after learning that a 12-year strike in which he participated has ended (because the minimum wage has risen to the level of the wages demanded by the workers twelve years earlier). Kramer becomes interested in resurrecting the holiday when at the bagel shop, Frank Costanza tells him how he created Festivus as an alternative holiday in response to the commercialization of Christmas.

Festivus pole

In the episode, although not in the original O’Keefe Family celebration, the tradition of Festivus begins with an aluminum pole. During Festivus, the pole is displayed unadorned. The basics of the Festivus pole are explained by Frank in two separate situations:

Cosmo Kramer: “And is there a tree?” Frank Costanza: “No, instead, there’s a pole. It requires no decoration. I find tinsel distracting.” Frank Costanza: “It’s made from aluminum. Very high strength-to-weight ratio.” When not being used, the aluminum pole is stored in the Costanzas’ crawl space.

Festivus Dinner

In “The Strike”, a celebratory dinner is shown on the evening of Festivus prior to the Feats of Strength and during the Airing of Grievances. The on-air meal was shown to be some sort of meatloaf. The original holiday dinner in the O’Keefe household featured turkey or ham followed by a Pepperidge Farm cake decorated with M&M’s, as described in detail in O’Keefe’s The Real Festivus. In the Seinfeld episode no alcohol is served at the dinner, but George Costanza’s boss, Mr. Kruger, drinks from a hip flask.

Gilbert note: An area that we can all agree on today is the “Airing of Grievances.”

The celebration of Festivus begins with the “Airing of Grievances”, which takes place immediately after the Festivus dinner has been served. It consists of lashing out at others and the world about how one has been disappointed in the past year. In “The Festivus Book” the tradition is watered down, and every household has its own version of the Airing of Grievances, with one family writing the grievances on the refrigerator in marker.

The Seinfeld version:

Frank Costanza: “And at the Festivus dinner, you gather your family around, and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year!” Frank Costanza: “The tradition of Festivus begins with the Airing of Grievances. I got a lot of problems with you people! And now, you’re gonna hear about it. You, Kruger. My son tells me your company STINKS!” George Costanza: “Oh, God.” Feats of Strength

The Feats of Strength is the final tradition observed in the celebration of Festivus, celebrated immediately following (or in the case of “The Strike”, during) the Festivus dinner. As described in the “Festivus Book”, the head of the household selects one person at the Festivus celebration and challenges that person to a wrestling match.The person may decline if they have something else to do, such as pull a double shift at work. Tradition states that Festivus is not over until the head of the household is pinned in a wrestling match. The Feats of Strength are mentioned twice in the episode before they actually take place. In both instances, no detail was given as to what had actually happened, but in both instances, George Costanza ran out of the show’s portrayal of a New York coffee shop in a mad panic, implying he had bad experiences with the Feats of Strength in the past. What the Feats of Strength entailed was revealed at the very end of the episode, when it actually took place. Failing to pin the head of the household results in Festivus continuing until such requirement is met.

Festivus is a Latin word, but not the name of a festival: in one reference it is said to mean “festive”. A scholarly work on the etymology of the word by Dr. Brian A. Krostenko, summarized in Salkin’s book, concludes that in ancient Rome the word evolved, referring at times to the way the common folk would misbehave on official religious holidays and at other times to a certain snooty attitude amongst the higher classes. The book claims, with no proof, that it is possible that the elder O’Keefe, who was studying ancient rituals, knew this etymology and adapted it for his family’s holiday.The English word festive derives from festivus, which in turn derives from festus “joyous; holiday, feast day”.

In the O’Keefe tradition, the holiday would take place in response to family tension, “any time from December to May”.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 elder O’Keefe wrote a book, Stolen Lightning: The Social Theory of Magic (1982), that deals with idiosyncratic ritual and its social significance, a theme with great relevance to Festivus tradition.

Festivus in popular culture as documented below:

The Wagner Companies of Milwaukee, Wisconsin began manufacturing and selling aluminum Festivus Poles for the 2005 season.
“Festivus” was the name of a seasonal Ben & Jerry’s ice cream made in 2000 and 2001.
“Festivus” was a term used by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League (NFL) and their fans to denote the NFL Playoffs. During the season, Ravens head coach Brian Billick banned his players from using the word “playoffs” during the season as he wanted his players to focus on every game and not look ahead. Players substituted the term “festivus” for playoffs and “Festivus Maximus” for the Super Bowl. The Ravens eventually did go on to win the 2001 Super Bowl (arguably a Festivus Miracle).

A 2004 episode of Jeopardy! had a Seinfeld-themed round, featuring a category entitled Festivus, in which contestants answered questions about holidays. This was the final episode in which long-time champion Ken Jennings played, until returning for the Ultimate Tournament of Champions.

In 2005, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle was declared “Governor Festivus” and during the holiday season displayed a Festivus Pole in the family room of the Executive Residence in Madison, Wisconsin. Governor Doyle’s 2005 Festivus Pole is now part of the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Museum

In 2007, a Wisconsin man requested permission to erect a Festivus pole next to Green Bay City Hall’s nativity scene as a response to public religious and non-religious displays.

Begun in January 2008, The Festivus Film Festival, based in Denver, Colorado. Called “the film fest for the rest of us”, the annual January festival highlights “truly independent” films and filmmakers.On 5 December 2008, the Five Points district in Columbia, South Carolina held the city’s first ever Festivus.

In December 2008, in response to a request by the Freedom From Religion Foundation an antireligious sign was displayed near a nativity scene, and among the influx of requests for other displays, the Washington State Capitol approved a private citizen’s right to have a Festivus Pole displayed. Governor Christine Gregoire eventually placed a moratorium on further additions to the Capitol display which stopped the Festivus Pole from being erected.

In 2008, a Festivus pole (the handle of a pool cleaner) was erected in the rotunda of the Illinois Capitol building located in Springfield, Illinois by an 18 year old student, Mike Tennenhouse with help from his brother Matt Tennenhouse. He was “airing grievances” on behalf of the people of Illinois with Governor Rod Blagojevich. The Illinois House of Representatives was meeting down the hall from the Festivus pole to discuss the start of Blagojevich’s impeachment proceedings. In 2009, the Festivus display returned but this time was an actual aluminum pole and not the handle of a pool cleaner.

In 2008 the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C. allowed for the “airing of grievances” on bulletin boards attached to a kiosk. A business group supplied notepads, pushpins, and pens for the community to participate in the Festivus tradition. Grievances were then aired by a town crier in a jester hat on the following Saturday and Sunday at noon.

The band Titus Andronicus recorded a CD entitled The Airing of Grievances.

Gilbert final comments. So for all those in the sub culture who read this post, and have grievances, be it with our elected officials or your next door neighbor, write a post it note and stick it on a pole.

This is one holiday that provides equal opportunity for all those who simply ignore “the reason for the season.”?

About Larry Gilbert