What Is Festivus? The Meaning and Origin Behind the Anti-Holiday Holiday

definition of "Festivus" from the article
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Seinfeld, also known as a generational zeitgeist (albeit unofficially), provides the solution to every problem you may encounter in life. Having a stressful day? Shout “Serenity now!” into the ether. Boss being demanding? Send him to the jerk store. Winter holidays too materialistic and/or religious for you? Celebrate Festivus instead.

What Is Festivus?

Festivus is an anti-holiday holiday from the sitcom Seinfeld. It rejects the commercialism and competition of Christmas and exists as a non-denominational, slightly passive-aggressive family celebration. As Frank Costanza declared in the 1997 Seinfeld episode “The Strike,” the holiday is “A Festivus for the rest of us!”

Where Did Festivus Come From?

Even though Frank (and his Festivus-hating son George) is fictional, the fake-sounding celebration is actually a real thing. According to Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe, his father Daniel O’Keefe invented the holiday in 1966 — and he celebrated it every year after that.

The word festivus itself comes from the Latin fēstus, meaning “feast day” or “holiday,” and fēstīvus, meaning “excellent.” Festivus has a similar origin to festive and festival, and it’s even in the dictionary, so it’s legit even if it’s not an official federal holiday (yet).

When Does Festivus Take Place?

Festivus takes place on December 23 every year. The date comes up in “The Strike” when Kramer asks for the 23rd off (and complains “But it’s Festivus!”).

However, in O’Keefe’s book The Real Festivus: The True Story Behind America's Favorite Made-Up Holiday, he calls Festivus “a floating holiday” that one could celebrate any day of the year. So whether or not you’re a Seinfeld devotee, Festivus can work for your schedule — which is, in itself, a very Festivus quality.

Important Festivus Traditions

Though Festivus prides itself on breaking the rules and being anti-traditionalist, Festivus rules and traditions — as dictated by Seinfeld — are as rigid as the aluminum pole that represents them. 

(Note: As O’Keefe states in The Real Festivus, these traditions are only from the TV version of Festivus — “because a network audience couldn’t have possibly handled the real thing.” Adherence to these traditions therefore depends on your level of Seinfeld fanaticism.)

The Airing of Grievances

In “The Strike,” Frank (played by the incomparable Jerry Stiller) begins the Festivus celebration with the Airing of Grievances. “I got a lot of problems with you people,” he shouts, “and now, you’re gonna hear about them.”

Model your own Festivus Airing of Grievances in the same way by starting with the nearest target (er, person) and specifying exactly how they have displeased you. Do the same with the next person, and the next, until you’ve gone around the table. 

(There’s no evidence from Seinfeld that anyone besides the host gets to partake, so if you’re not the host, just accept your grievances with dignity.)

The Festivus Pole

Tired of spending $100 on a Christmas tree that’s just going to dry out in a few weeks anyway? Skip the plastic version and go straight to the Festivus pole — a vertical, undecorated, aluminum pole (the aluminum part is very important, because of its “high strength-to-weight ratio”).

The Festivus Dinner

Forget the traditional holiday feast. According to Seinfeld, all you need is a huge plate of meatloaf and a bowl of undressed lettuce. If you’d like to add your own fixings, that’s probably fine — but Seinfeld purists may judge your eschewment of their sacred traditions.

The Feats of Strength

Some may argue that the Feats of Strength are out of place in a holiday that outright rejects competition over the season’s trendiest toy. But if you’ve ever wished that Christmas or Hanukkah incorporated more wrestling into their traditions, you might be a secret Festivus celebrant. Follow Frank Costanza’s advice: “Stop crying and fight your father.”

Bringing Guests to Festivus

Can you bring newcomers to Festivus? Based on “The Strike,” guests are welcomed with sincerity and warmth. George Costanza’s boss is given a tour of the Festivus pole, and the random guys Kramer brings even get a seat at the table. Just make sure there’s enough meatloaf (and grievances) for everyone.

Festivus Greetings

There’s no Happy/Merry/Holy drama when it comes to Festivus. A simple “Happy Festivus!” to an observer will suffice.

It’s a Festivus Miracle!

Even if you reject all the other aspects of Festivus, hold on to this one. Declaring anything good that happens on December 23rd as “a Festivus miracle” both expresses your Festivus affiliation and your status as a Seinfeld fan. Extra points if you say it on other holidays or random days of the week.

Real-Life Festivus Celebrations

While Festivus may have begun as a real-life-turned-fictional holiday, it’s squarely back to real life here in the 21st century. If you’d like to bring Festivus to the rest of us IRL, there are a few Seinfeld-specific resources you’ve got to check first. (Just don’t be a close-talker or a double-dipper.)

More Non-Holiday Holidays

If Festivus feels, as Kramer points out, “a little [insert crazy Kramer mouth noises] out there,” you don’t have to return to those boring, traditional holidays quite yet. Take your pick from other celebrations that are based on real holidays, shopping habits, or other TV shows and movies.

  • Galentine’s Day (celebrated February 13) - a day that celebrates female friendships, popularized by the sitcom Parks and Recreation
  • Friendsgiving (celebrated on or around Thanksgiving) - a Thanksgiving-like holiday with friends instead of family
  • Black Friday (celebrated the Friday after Thanksgiving) - a busy shopping day when stores offer very low prices and competitive deals
  • Buy Nothing Day (celebrated the Saturday after Thanksgiving) - a day of protest against rampant consumerism, especially Black Friday
  • Treat Yo Self (celebrated October 13) - holiday that encourages self-indulgence and comfort, based on the October 13, 2011 airing of the Parks and Recreation episode “Pawnee Rangers” 
  • Life Day (celebrated November 17) - a Wookiee celebration of life from the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special