You may not know it, but today is a holiday. Yes, Yes, the date is still December 23, the day before Christmas Eve. And while it's not recognized by any official governing body (yet), today is arguably the fastest-growing pop-culture holiday ever (deal with it, Star Wars day!). I'm talking, of course, about Festivus.
You don't have to be a Seinfeld super fan to recognize the name. An independent holiday created by Frank Costanza, father of George and famously played by Jerry Stiller, Festivus was introduced to the world in the episode "The Strike", which first aired on December 18, 1997. In the show, the elder Costanza conceived the holiday in the 1960s as a reaction to the commercialization of Christmas (the epiphany came while he was beating another father in a fight over a doll at a toy story) and featured a few hilarious rituals (which we'll get to further down).
But Festivus existed before Seinfeld, as a family celebration devised by Dan O'Keefe, an editor at Reader's Digest, in 1966. The regular event was more fluid and unfixed than the version on the show, regulated to any time between October and May and sometimes featuring an individual theme for each observance. It seems there were constants, though, involving a tape recorder, wrestling between the kids and a clock in a bag nailed to the wall (for real). O'Keefe's son, also named Dan, was a writer for Seinfeld and eventually penned "The Strike"--with certain comedic flourishes added in.
And while Seinfeld has been off the air for 17 years, Festivus is still going strong with celebrants from all walks of life--and it would seem there are more of them every year.
"It's the component of 'Festivus for the rest of us' which has actually grown," says Mark Nelson, webmaster for Festivus! The Website and author of the recently published Festivus! The Book. According to Nelson, while many folks celebrate Festivus to play homage to their favorite sitcom, more and more are being drawn to the comedic holiday's secular slant and vow of inclusiveness. "That's a real draw for some people," Nelson says.
It's an interesting turn for something that began as a gag on a show "about nothing" and for a long time was nothing more than a glimmer in pop culture memory or reruns...that is until a New York Times article by Allan Salkin in 2004 sparked renewed interest in Festivus.
"He basically discovered that Festivus was still being celebrated," says Nelson. "I think that article got things going."
Nelson, who himself began celebrating Festivus with his family ten years ago, has been running his Festivus website since 2006 and claims to have been seeing a steady number of visitors every year with a slight increase. His Facebook page I Celebrate Festivus just cracked 25,000 followers.
It was the interactive nature of social media and feedback that helped fuel Nelson's book. The questions from readers and need for more Festivus content made him realize that more people are taking part. After last year's Festivus, he surveyed Festivus celebrants.
So how do people celebrate Festivus in 2015?
Well, according to Nelson, they celebrate much like they did it on the show. "They follow what the show has shown them about festivals. It's a fun holiday, it's humorous and it's about Seinfeld," he explains. "I would say that's the majority of people that are celebrating Festivus in their homes are following that model."
That means instead of a tree, there's an undecorated aluminum pole (which if you don't have on-hand can be purchased online from a company based in Wisconsin), a dinner gathering with family and friends (usually with meatloaf served as the main dish, although Nelson's website has a list of Seinfeld food that can also be served), and of course, the "airing of grievances," which Nelson explains isn't as serious as it would seem.
"Frank Constanza [in the episode] says 'I'm going to air my grievances' and then yells 'I've got a lot of problems with you people' then he airs a grievance to George's boss and losses his train of thought," Nelson explains. "So he never really airs any decent grievances'...Now that's kind of the way it works in real life, in my experience. Someone says "I'm going to tell you what I think" and then everyone laughs...and that's the end of it."
Oh, and then there's also the "Feats of Strength," a wrestling contest between the head of the household and someone picked from the family that signifies the end of Festivus when the head of the household is finally pinned. Nelson suggests tamer physical contests like arm wrestling and board games can take place instead.
So gather around the Festivus pole, everyone. And celebrate everyone's new favorite holiday. At least until Chrismukkah really catches on.