Seinfeld's version of Festivus:
The third reincarnation of Festivus occurred in an episode of Seinfeld that was broadcast on 1997-DEC-18 during episode #158 "The Strike." On the show, Frank Costanza -- played by Jerry Stiller -- said that he saw the need for a new holiday when he was in a department store near Christmas time. He engaged in a tug of war with another shopper over the last remaining doll which he wanted to purchase for one of his young children. Neither customer got the doll; it was destroyed during the battle. Costanza explained: "I realized there had to be a better way." So, he developed Festivus, a celebration for the rest of us.
Frank's son, the ever cheap George Costanza, dreamed up a scam to save money. Rather than give his co-workers Christmas gifts, he gave them all phony cards indicating he had made a donation in their name to a fictitious charity: The Human Fund. George's boss decided to give a $20,000 donation to the charity and gives George a check. The scam is revealed when the accounting department finds that there is no such charity. George explains:
" I gave out the fake card, because, um, I don't really celebrate Christmas. I, um, I celebrate Festivus. ... And, uh, I was afraid that I would be persecuted for my beliefs. They drove my family out of Bayside, Sir!"
According to TV Acres:
"Calling his bluff, George's boss came home with George to see Festivus in action. The get-together was a fiasco and ended with George being pummeled by his father who wrestled him to the floor as George screamed ..."
The show's writers changed the wrestling competition so that the head of the family selected a family member or friend to wrestle. According to Wikipedia: "A participant is allowed to decline to attempt to pin the head of the family only if they have something better to do instead." The writers also added some additional features to O'Keefe's original celebration:
- A Christmas tree substitute made of a plain aluminum pole without decoration. Costanza found "tinsel distracting." Apparently, the simple, unadorned pole was in reaction to ornate Christmas trees with layers of expensive decorations.
- The celebration concludes when the head of the family is wrestled to the floor and pinned.
As a side-plot, Kramer asked for Festivus off as a vacation day from the bagel shop where he worked. They refused to grant his request. So he went on strike, carrying the sign: "Festivus Yes! Bagels No!"
The evolution of Festivus:
Years after the Seinfeld episode, Festivus began taking on a life of its own:
- In late 2000 Ben & Jerry's created a temporary special Festivus ice cream flavor.
- In 2004, the New York Times reported that: "...from Tampa Bay, FL, to Washington, from Austin, TX., to Oxford, OH, many real people are holding parties." Jennifer Galdes of Chicago IL, a publicist working in the restaurant industry and a veteran of three Festivus parties, said: "More and more people are familiar with what Festivus is, and it's growing. This year many more people, when they got the invite, responded with, 'Will there be an airing of the grievances and feats of strength'? "
- Fubbershmore sells Festivus T-shirts in over twenty colors and seven styles.
- A FestiForum is online.
- In 2006, TBS scheduled a mini-Seinfeld marathon during the week before Christmas including the Festivus episode.
- For Festivus 2006, the Boston Globe commented:
"Festivus celebrants can now go online and purchase specialty items like wine (Grape Ranch Festivus Red, made in Oklahoma), greeting cards, and aluminum poles ... From holiday songs ("Gather 'Round the Pole," "Oh Festivus") to Festivus recipes (Ham With Junior Mint and Snapple Glaze, reprinted in Salkin's book), the trappings and trimmings associated with bona fide holidays have become readily available in a kitschy sort of way."
About the Festivus pole:
Festivus is in a constant state of flux. The original Festivus was a bare-bones affair. Not even tinsel was allowed. Recent celebrants have added some new rituals and specifications to the celebration. One relates to how the pole is mounted. The pole was shown on the Seinfeld program, but its mounting was not.
- Krista Soroka, 33, of Tampa Bay, FL, supported her five-foot pole in a sand-filled green plastic pot.
- Mike Osiecki, 27, of Atlanta, GA, suspended his pole from the ceiling of his porch with fishing line. He commented: "people can stare at it or dance around it if they want to."
- Aaron Roberts, 28, of Oxford, Ohio, used a post from a recycled set of metal shelves supported by a cardboard box containing weights.
- Jennifer Galdes mounted her six-and-a-half foot pole in a Christmas tree stand.
- Scott McLemee of Washington DC simplified the festival even more by not having a pole at all at his party.
Why is Festivus catching on?
By 2004-DEC, Google reported an amazing 126,000 hits on the Internet for the word "Festivus." This grew to 1.46 million by 2006-DEC. Nobody really knows why it has become so popular. Some speculations are:
- Professor Anthony Aveni of Colgate University, author of "The Book of the Year: A Brief History of our Seasonal Holidays" 7 suggests that Festivus is infused with so much potential meaning that it may become a permanent part of the American holiday firmament. He notes that Halloween was once an obscure festival observed by few, that Kwanzaa was invented by an academic in the 1960s, and Hanukkah has evolved in recent years to include the exchange of gifts. He said: "Even Christmas comes out of a Pagan holiday that happened around the [winter] solstice."
- Festivus may be gaining acceptance by the one out of four Americans who does not identify with either Christianity Judaism, or Wicca. To them, Christmas, Hanukkah and Yule do not have a great deal of religious significance. Not being of African-American descent, Kwanzaa also lacks impact in their lives. But Festivus might appeal to those who are either not affiliated with any religion, or who are members of a faith group which does not have a celebration in late December.
- Others may find Festivus attracted because it is such a simple family celebration, free of the commercialization of Christmas.
- The New York Times suggests another option:
"... 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.')."
- The Boston Globe suggests that:
"Behind its popularity, devotees say, are its absence of presents, accent on idiocy, and refreshing lack of familial psychodrama. Festivus may have its own quirky rituals, they note, but none involving theology, batteries, reindeer, political correctness, or parental guilt."
Perhaps it appeals to people because it is so funny and nonsensical.