Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Festivus For The Rest of Us

As a huge Seinfeld fan, "Festivus" ranks right up there, Big Lebowski-like, in my consciousness every year about this time.  (Younger readers should start with Seinfeld's "Master of My Domain" episode to understand the show's universal appeal.)  "Festivus is a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 as a way to avoid the pressures and commercialism of the holiday season. It was created by writer Dan O'Keefe and introduced into popular culture by his son Daniel, a screenwriter for the TV show Seinfeld. The holiday's celebration includes an unadorned aluminum "Festivus pole", practices such as the "Airing of Grievances" and "Feats of Strength", and the labelling of easily explainable events as "Festivus Miracles". The original Festivus took place in February 1966, as a celebration of the elder O'Keefe's first date with his future wife, Deborah. According to O'Keefe, the name Festivus "just popped into my head". The "Airing of Grievances" occurs during the Festivus meal, each person telling everyone else 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 he/she is actually pinned. (The head of the household selects his opponent and the person may decline if they have something else to do.) The original holiday featured more peculiar practices, as detailed in the younger Daniel O'Keefe's book The Real Festivus. The spread of Festivus is chronicled in the 2005 book Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us by Allen Salkin. The Festivus pole, which is displayed unadorned, was not part of the original O'Keefe family celebration. The on-air Festivus meal was meatloaf, although the original holiday dinner in the O'Keefe household featured turkey or ham followed by a Pepperidge Farm cake decorated with M&M's. Festivus Miracles may be declared by anyone. In the original 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 relevant to Festivus tradition. Festivus in popular culture has been expressed as: embroidery on a yarmulke, the name of a Ben & Jerry's ice cream, a term used by the Baltimore Ravens to denote the NFL Playoffs (they won the 2001 Festivus Maximus, Super Bowl XXXV), in 2006 eight young men from Brockville, Ontario, set forth on a pilgrimage to Belleville, Ontario, carrying a Festivus pole which was erected inside a local pub/pool hall, where they began "airing grievances" and performing "feats of strength" (an annual tradition celebrated on the third Saturday every December), in 2008 a Festivus pole was erected in the rotunda of the Illinois Capitol building located in Springfield, Illinois, by student Mike Tennenhouse, who along with Governor Rod Blagojevich began "airing grievances" on behalf of the people of Illinois, in 2010 an inmate in Santa Ana, CA, received Kosher meals for his Festivus "faith" (non-salami meals) for two months while the county was getting the order thrown out, in 2010 a CNN story detailed US Representative Eric Cantor's Festivus fundraiser, and the same year Festivus was a "top trend" on Twitter." (Wikipedia)  Happy Festivus!