Festivus, a well-celebrated parody, has become a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 that serves as an alternative to participating in the pressures and commercialism of the Christmas season. It has been described as possibly "the perfect secular theme for an all-inclusive December gathering".
Originally a family tradition of scriptwriter Dan O'Keefe, who worked on the American sitcom Seinfeld, Festivus entered popular culture after it was made the focus of a 1997 episode of the program. The episode refers to it as "a Festivus for the rest of us", referencing its non-commercial aspect. It has also been described both as a "parody holiday festival" and as a form of playful consumer resistance.
Festivus was conceived by editor and author Daniel O'Keefe and was celebrated by his family as early as 1966. 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 Daniel O'Keefe's mother.
The word Festivus in this sense was coined by O'Keefe, and according to him the name "just popped into my head". The English word festive derives from Latin "festivus", which in turn derives from festus "joyous; holiday, feast day".
Although the first Festivus took place in February 1966, as a celebration of Daniel O'Keefe's first date with his future wife, Deborah, it is now celebrated on December 23, as depicted in a Seinfeld episode written by O'Keefe's son.
In the episode, the tradition of Festivus begins with an aluminum pole. Frank Costanza cites its "very high strength-to-weight ratio" as appealing. During Festivus, the pole is displayed unadorned. According to Frank, "I find tinsel distracting."
Dan O'Keefe credits fellow Seinfeld writer Jeff Schaffer with introducing the concept, which was not part of the original O'Keefe family celebration.
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 and spaghetti with red sauce. 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 Dan O'Keefe's The Real Festivus. In the Seinfeld episode, no alcohol is served at the dinner, but George's boss, Mr. Kruger, drinks something from a hip flask.
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 each person lashing out at others and the world about how they have been disappointed in the past year.
Feats of Strength
The Feats of Strength are the final tradition observed in the celebration of Festivus, celebrated immediately following (or in the case of "The Strike", during) the Festivus dinner. The head of the household selects one person at the Festivus celebration and challenges that person to a wrestling match. Tradition states that Festivus is not over until the head of the household is pinned in a wrestling match. In "The Strike", however, Kramer manages to circumvent the rule by creating an excuse to leave. 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 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.
Cosmo Kramer twice declares a "Festivus Miracle" during the Festivus celebration in the Costanza household. It is the character Kramer that actually causes the occurrence of two "miracles" by inviting two off-track betting bookies to dinner with Elaine (men whom Elaine wished to avoid), and by causing Jerry's girlfriend Gwen to believe that Jerry was cheating on her.
In a CNN segment on the origins of Festivus, O'Keefe spoke about the real-life experiences realated to the holiday. O'Keefe's father, who originated some of the now-recognized Festivus traditions, used a clock, not an aluminum pole. O'Keefe told CNN:
"The real symbol of the holiday was a clock that my dad put in a bag and nailed to the wall every year...I don't know why, I don't know what it means, he would never tell me. He would always say, 'That's not for you to know.'"