Festivus is a nondenominational holiday featured in an episode of Seinfeld, a popular American television sitcom of the 1990s. The holiday was a plot device in episode number 166 of the show, titled "The Strike", which first aired on December 18, 1997. Many people, influenced or inspired by Seinfeld, now celebrate the holiday, in varying degrees of seriousness. Some do it religiously, others do it in good tidings in their respect to Seinfeld.
According to Seinfeld, Festivus is celebrated each year on December 23, but many people celebrate it other times, often in early December. Its slogan is "A Festivus for the rest of us!" An aluminum pole is generally used in lieu of a Christmas tree or other holiday decoration. Those attending participate in the "Airing of Grievances" which is an opportunity for all to vent their hostilities toward each other, and after a Festivus dinner, The Feats of Strength are performed. Traditionally, Festivus is not over until the head of the household is wrestled to the floor and "pinned."
The character Frank Costanza (played by Jerry Stiller) created Festivus as an alternative holiday in response to the commercialization of Christmas. Frank Costanza explained its origins during the episode to the character Cosmo Kramer (played by Michael Richards), as related in the following dialogue:
- Frank Costanza: Many Christmases ago, about 30 years ago to be exact, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.
- Cosmo Kramer: What happened to the doll?
- Frank Costanza: It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born . . . a Festivus for the rest of us!
- Cosmo Kramer: That must've been some kind of doll.
- Frank Costanza: She was.
In the episode, Kramer became interested in resurrecting the holiday after hearing the plight of his friend—Frank Costanza's son—George (played by Jason Alexander), who used the holiday celebration he hated in his youth as a defensive excuse to his employer, Kruger (played by Daniel Von Bargen). George had been confronted by Kruger after handing out cards for Christmas to his fellow employees stating a donation had been made to a fake charity (invented by George) called The Human Fund (with the slogan "Money For People") in lieu of exchanging Christmas presents. George defended himself saying that he feared persecution for his beliefs, for not celebrating Christmas. Attempting to call his bluff, Kruger came home with George to see Festivus in action.
Main elements of Festivus
The Festivus celebration includes four major components:
- The Festivus Pole: The Costanzas' tradition begins with an aluminum pole, which Frank praises for its "very high strength-to-weight ratio." During Festivus, the unadorned pole is displayed. The pole was chosen apparently in opposition to the commercialization of highly decorated Christmas trees, because it is "very low-maintenance," and also because the holiday's patron, Frank Costanza, "find[s] tinsel distracting."
- Festivus Dinner: Since the root word of "festivus" is "feast," no celebration would be complete without a hearty meal to fortify celebrants for the "feats of strength." The Festivus dinner menu is flexible, but it should consist of filling, non-holiday comfort food (no turkey, duck, or goose). The televised dinner featured what may have been meatloaf or spaghetti in a red sauce. (Presumably, an entree in a red sauce is more festive.) Kruger took a flask out from his jacket and took a swig; so one might interpret that drinking is optional. In the Festivus book by Allen Salkin, drinking is encouraged with hearty beer, cheap rum, bourbon, or wine.
- The Airing of Grievances: At the Festivus dinner, each participant tells friends and family of all the instances where they disappointed him or her that year. As quoted from Frank Costanza: "I've got a lot of problems with you people, and now you're going to hear about them!"
- The Feats of Strength: After the dinner, or "feast of strength" if you will, the head of the family tests his or her strength against one participant of the head's choosing. Festivus is not considered over until the head of the family has been pinned to the ground. 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 Festivus Miracle
While not an official element of the holiday or its celebration, the phenomenon of the Festivus Miracle should not be overlooked. When, at one point in the episode, two sleazy betting-window guys from the off track betting parlor call H&H Bagels (Elaine's fake phone number) for Elaine Benes, Kramer (who was on strike against H&H, but went inside the store because he had to use the bathroom) answers the phone and explains that he is about to see Elaine and invites the bookies to join him for Festivus. Kramer enthusiastically declares "It's a Festivus miracle!"
Kramer reports another Festivus Miracle when Gwen finds Jerry at the Costanza home, despite Kramer's previous directions to Gwen. At best, a "Festivus miracle" is a coincidence rather than a genuine miracle.
Etymology and Origin
The english word festivity derives from latin term festivus meaning "festive or merry," which in turn derives from the latin terms festum meaning "festival or holiday," and festus meaning "of a feast." .
The Festivus idea came to the show through writer Dan O'Keefe. His father, Daniel O'Keefe, had discovered the Festivus holiday in a book that outlined obscure (mostly European) holidays published in 1966; the book described many of the features later included in the Seinfeld episode. The father was inspired in part by the Samuel Beckett play Krapp's Last Tape, whose protagonist tapes himself speaking at different times in his life. The original Airing of Grievances was spoken into a tape recorder, and the O'Keefe family retains some of the tapes. (The father's career as a Reader's Digest editor meant internal politics of that organization are prominently featured; external grievances were permitted.) The O'Keefe tradition did not have a set date (the original holiday took place in the "Past" day before the presentation of presents which fostered altruism in the community when supplies were diminished, and the "Future" which represented the hope of the coming year - the original date was usually on December 23), but would take place in response to family tension, "any time from December to May" (Salkin). The phrase "a Festivus for the rest of us" also derived from an O'Keefe family event, the death of the elder O'Keefe's mother. This is not dissimilar from an Irish wake. The holiday made it onto Seinfeld after the writing team was amused by O'Keefe's retelling.
The elder O'Keefe wrote the 1982 book Stolen Lightning: A Social Theory of Magic (ISBN 0826400590); the work deals with idiosyncratic ritual and its social significance, a theme with obvious relevance to Festivus tradition.
- At least two contemporary books (including the original book of the subject) on the holiday exist:
- During the 2000 NFL regular season, Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick forbade anyone to use the "P-word" (presumably "postseason" or "playoffs") until the team actually played in it. In its place, the word "Festivus" was used. The Super Bowl was then referred to as "Festivus Maximus." The Ravens went on to defeat the New York Giants, 34-7, in Super Bowl XXXV on January 28, 2001.
- Presumably unaware of the coincidence, the Brisbane Marketing organization has adopted the name "Festivus" to refer to its summer holidays program of events in Brisbane.
- The Wagner Companies of Milwaukee, Wisconsin began manufacturing Festivus Poles for the 2005 season.
- "Festivus" was the name of an ice cream flavor (mostly gingerbread flavoring) of Ben and Jerry's ice cream in 2001. Named after the fictitious holiday, the flavor has since been renamed "Gingerbread Cookie."
- "Festivus" is the name of a red wine produced by Grape Ranch Vineyards in Oklahoma.
- "Oh Festivus" (also known as "The Festivus Song") was first sung in Dallas, Texas bars and taverns in the 2004-2005 holiday season. It is set to the tune of O Canada. 
- For the last two years, the Minneapolis Town Hall Brewery, an award-winning brewpub in Minneapolis, MN, has released a beer called Festivus to celebrate the holiday season.
- Columbia University's Living-Learning Center holds a Festivus celebration during first semester finals in honor of Seinfeld.
- Drew University holds a midnight breakfast during exam week in celebration of Festivus with all the elements of Festivus including the Aluminum Pole, Feats of Strength, and Airing of Grievances.
- The University of Wisconsin-Madison's first Festivus celebration was organized by Andy Pascaly in 2003. Since then, the gathering has grown to about 300 participants in 2004.
- The 2006 Baltimore City Department of Public Works Calendar highlights Festivus Appreciation Day on December 23rd with a picture of a Festivus Pole.
- Festivus: The Website for the Rest of Us Grievances, Festivus Home Movies, Unique Feats of Strength, and more.
- "The Strike" Complete script from the episode that introduced Festivus
- Lawrence Journal-World Article "A Festivus for the Rest of Us"
- "Festivus Info Center" Grievances worksheet. Feats of strength challenge card. Festivus in the News.
- SFist Interview with Festivus Author Allen Salkin
- Louisville Courier-Journal article "Poles for Festivus Made for the Rest of Us"
- Governor Festivus
- Real Festivushe:פסטיבוס