Skip to comments.'A Festivus for the rest of us' starts catching on (HAPPY FESTIVUS!)
Posted on 12/23/2004 5:48:43 AM PST by KidGlock
Thursday, December 23, 2004
'A Festivus for the rest of us' starts catching on
By ALLEN SALKIN THE NEW YORK TIMES
Gather around the Festivus pole and listen to a tale about a real holiday made fictional and then real again, a tale that touches on philosophy, King Lear, the pool at the Chateau Marmont hotel, a paper bag with a clock inside and, oh yes, a television show about nothing.
The first surprise is that all over the country, many real people are holding parties celebrating Festivus, a holiday most believe was invented on an episode of "Seinfeld" first broadcast the week before Christmas in 1997.
"More and more people are familiar with what Festivus is, and it's growing," said Jennifer Galdes, a Chicago restaurant publicist who organized her first Festivus party three years ago. "This year many more people, when they got the invite, responded with, 'Will there be an airing of the grievances and feats of strength?' "
Those two rituals -- accusing others of being a disappointment and wrestling -- are traditions of Festivus as explained on the show by the character Frank Costanza. On that episode he tells Kramer that he invented the holiday when his children were young and he found himself in a department store tug of war with another Christmas shopper over a doll. "I realized there had to be a better way," Frank says.
So he coined the slogan "A Festivus for the rest of us" and formulated the other rules: The holiday occurs today, features a bare aluminum pole instead of a tree and does not end until the head of the family is wrestled to the floor and pinned.
The actual inventor of Festivus is Dan O'Keefe, 76, whose son Daniel, a writer on "Seinfeld," appropriated a family tradition for the episode. The elder O'Keefe was stunned to hear that the holiday, which he minted in 1966, is catching on. "Have we accidentally invented a cult?" he wondered.
To postulate grandly, the rise of Festivus, a bare-bones affair in which even tinsel is forbidden, may mean that Americans are fed up with the commercialism of the December holidays and are yearning for something simpler. Or it could be that Festivus is the perfect secular theme for an all-inclusive December gathering (even better than Chrismukkah, popularized by the television show "The O.C."). Or maybe, postulating smally, it's just irresistibly silly.
Interpretations of the holiday's rules differ among Festivus fundamentalists. Take the pole. On the show Frank Costanza says it must be aluminum and "it requires no decoration." But he does not specify what should hold it up nor its exact height.
Krista Soroka, 33, the host of an annual Festivus party in Tampa Bay, Fla., sank her 5-footer into a green plastic pot filled with sand this year. "It's just an aluminum pole," she said, "like Frank says."
Aaron Roberts, 28, a zoology graduate student in Oxford, Ohio, unscrewed a post from a set of metal shelves and sank it through the top of a cardboard box with weights inside.
Mike Osiecki, 26, a financial analyst in Atlanta, scheduled his Festivus gathering for friends and colleagues for tomorrow. He said his pole, which he bought for $10 at Home Depot, is suspended by fishing line on his porch, so "people can stare at it or dance around it if they want to."
In Chicago, Galdes anchored her 6-and-a-half-footer in a Christmas tree stand. "This year I am not having a tree," she said.
Scott McLemee, a writer, and his wife, Rita Tehan, had no pole at all at their party in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in Washington. They are two of the Festivus faithful who held their parties early in December before friends headed home for more traditional affairs.
Dan O'Keefe and his son bless the variations. The original Festivus was constantly in flux.
"It was entirely more peculiar than on the show," the younger O'Keefe said from the set of the sitcom "Listen Up," where he is now a writer. There was never a pole, but there were airings of grievances into a tape recorder and wrestling matches between Daniel and his two brothers, among other rites.
"There was a clock in a bag," said O'Keefe, 36, adding that he does not know what it symbolized.
"Most of the Festivi had a theme," he said. "One was, 'Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?' Another was, 'Too easily made glad?' "
His father, a former editor at Reader's Digest, said the first Festivus took place in February 1966, before any of his children were born, as a celebration of the anniversary of his first date with his wife, Deborah. The word "Festivus" just popped into his head, he said from his home in Chappaqua, N.Y.
The holiday evolved during the 1970s, when the elder O'Keefe began doing research for his book "Stolen Lightning" (Vintage 1983), a work of sociology that explores the ways people use cults, astrology and the paranormal as a defense against social pressures.
Festivus, with classic rituals such as familial gatherings, totemic-but-mysterious objects and respect for ancestors, slouched forth from this milieu. "In the background was Durkheim's 'Elementary Forms of Religious Life,' " O'Keefe recalled, "saying that religion is the unconscious projection of the group. And then the U.S. philosopher Josiah Royce: Religion is the worship of the beloved community."
If O'Keefe is the real father of Festivus, Jerry Stiller, the actor who played Frank Costanza, George Costanza's father, is its Santa Claus.
"I'll take that mantle," Stiller said in an interview from poolside at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, where he was awaiting the premiere of "Meet the Fockers," a new film featuring his real son, Ben Stiller. "I'll wear my crown."
Stiller, 77, has his own interpretation of the Festivus rituals as portrayed on the "Seinfeld" episode, especially the feats of strength, which end with a wrestling match between him and George.
"It was another kind of way with dealing with something else that was going on at the time: the rebelliousness of the son against the father and the father trying to prove he was still stronger than the son," he said. "It was like King Lear." (In this case, though, the old man wins.)
Infused as Festivus is with so much potential meaning, it is not far-fetched to imagine it as a permanent part of the American holiday firmament, said Anthony F. Aveni, a professor of astronomy and anthropology at Colgate and the author of "The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays" (Oxford University Press, 2002). After all, Halloween used to be an obscure festival observed by few, Kwanzaa was invented by an academic in California in the 1960s, and Hanukkah has been reinvented in modern times to include gift-giving. "Even Christmas comes out of a pagan holiday that happened around the solstice," Aveni said.
The holiday does seem to be evolving.
The Festivus party to be given in Austin, Texas, on Christmas Eve eve by Katherine Willis, an actress, and her husband is to include a backyard game of "pitching washers."
"There's basically a hole in the ground," she said. "You try to throw the washers in the hole, and apparently the more you drink the better you get at it."
A Web site she has set up, www.kwillis.com/festivus.html, provides downloads of a feats of strength challenge card, a list of grievances form and Festivus greeting cards, including one that reads, in a Hallmark-like typeface, "You're a disappointment! Happy Festivus!" Another Web site, www.crazygrrl.com, offers Festivus e-mail cards.
Soroka, in Tampa Bay, who has guests write their grievances in a ledger so she can show it at parties all year long, has added karaoke this year.
Some things just grow. "Last year," said Galdes of Chicago, "there was break dancing. I don't know how that happened."
Sorry but this festivus is idiotic and totally devoid of humor content.
I often wonder if anyone remembers the finale of the Seinfeld show, in which all the characters end up in jail for being superficial, selfish people. Nobody seems to recall that "the show about nothing" was really about a bunch of losers.
Hmmmm. Suffering from Multiple Personalities Disorder are we? (smile)
Festivus is more real than Kwanzaa.
Have you read the article? The whole point of the article is to deride Christmas and to show that some people are actually celebrating this absurdity and Sarkin points out that one of the reasons may be that people are simply fed up with Christmas. I don't believe those people ever actually knew Christmas. Very sad for them.
Different strokes for different folks.
We Seinfeld fans know exactly what it was about: humor, a few good laughs, funny characters. We know it was a show about nothing.
Yeesh. Go back to bed and wake up on the other side, will ya'?
Old Festivus really helped Matt out of sme jams, huh?
"This is absolutely hilarious, though I somehow feel as if I'm missing out. So far, I've been invited to three Christmas parties, a Winter Solstice party, a "Yule Party," and a "Seasonal Gathering," - but not a single Festivus party. Apparently, I am a social leper."
Hardly. I have been invited to precicely squat. Obviously, I need to air some grievances.
You don't have much of a sense of humor, do you?
No is isn't. The article is tongue in cheek, just like the Seinfeld episode, just like Festivus itself. It's a joke.
It's almost as funny to watch you guys getting whipped up in your misdirected righteous indignation, as it is watching the show.
You like that so much, then try this. Throw a birthday party for your wife, and then at the last minute, re-name it "PamelaAndersonus," give it over to a bunch of folks who despise your wife, and join them in ignoring her on her day.
See how that one goes over. And what it says about you.
There's no need for a smarmy substitute for Christmas. The real thing is just fine.
PS -- and maybe sometime, one of you will write a serious essay explaining how a really repellent idea is "okay," as long as it started on a comedy TV show. Maybe we can get Seinfeld to do a show about lying, and make that funny and cool? Or lying? Or immorality? Or stealing? Or abusing other people? Or being selfish jerks?
And then, when anyone tries to talk about how wretched it is to lie or steal, you can say, "Hey, lighten up; it started on a a comedy show!
Oh, and anyway, they already did those themes, didn't they?
95% of the stuff that has accreted around the celebration of the Lords birth is absurd and begs to be made fun of.
"I'm never watching it again, all I did was laugh through the whole show!"
Seesh, it must be tough to be around you.
I'm selling official Festivus poles next year.
Right. Anyone who ever has a critical thought about anything that doesn't bother you, can't have a sense of humor about anything else.
"Years ago I told my friend about the Seinfeld show. "
Does your friend live in a cave or on the moon?
It sounds like you are describing Kwanzaa.