Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Festivus for the rest of us

Festivus For The Rest Of Us

This time of year it can be odd for those of us who don't confirm to any one religious celebration. I'm an atheist who was born into a Catholic family and I work in the film industry, so I'm as good as Jewish. So those two holidays sort of mash up against each other.

In truth, Christmas really doesn't ring all that well with me. The shopping and all the fake good will towards one another as you stomp each other to death to get the latest video game just seems like a contradiction. Hanukkah, as much as I love potato pancakes, just doesn't seem like my thing either. What, with the eight gifts and constant fear that I'll start a fire? Oy! That's why I say bring on Festivus!

In the 3rd century, before the common era, the comic poet Plautus used the term Festivus to refer to "wild celebrations attended by citizens cutting loose on religious holidays." I like the sound of that myself. The modern day Festivus was shaped and reformed in 1966 by Daniel O'Keefe who was a writer for Reader's Digest. The idea just came to his head as a way to celebrate the middle point between the Winter Solstice and Christmas. It also coincided with the day that he and his wife had their first date. What a sucker. I mean, start dating right near Christmas? You're boned for a gift.

He developed it during the 1970s while he researched his book "Stolen Lightning" that really went into the ways that people use cults, astrology and paranormal as a defense against social pressures. How we all came to follow this new cult has all to deal with his son, Daniel, who was a writer on Seinfield, describes Festivus with his family which included the following.

  • A wrestling match amount the children in the family.
  • The airing of grievances where you present complaints to friends and family about all the ways in which they have disappointed them over the year.
  • A Clock in a bag. The meaning of this was lost to history.
  • A random yearly theme. "Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?" and "Too easily made glad?" were two Daniel remembers.

This was all kept in the family till 1997 when the Seinfeld episode The Strike first aired. In the show, Frank Costanza 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.

George Costanza was trying to think of a scam to save money for the holidays gave co-workers fake cards indicating that he made a donation in their name to a fake charity. When it was found out he gave the excuse that he celebrated Festivus and was afraid of persecution.

The changes made to the original festivities were
  • A Christmas tree substitute made of plain aluminum pole without decoration as Frank found tinsel distraction.
  • The celebration concludes when the head of the family is wrestled to the floor and pinned.

As you can see, it's not that much of a difference. So you have the moment you tell others how they let you down over the year, wrestle heads of family and there's an aluminum pole involved. How could this be a wrong thing? I would wonder why it hasn't picked up in celebration more but in truth, it's gaining some massive popularity. O'Keefer indeed invented a cult and when it comes to holiday celebrations, I'm all for it!

So have yourself a Happy Festivus!

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