Holidays have unique ways of being preserved, shared, and adopted. Many holidays and festivals are intrinsically linked to religious and spiritual practices. Some holidays are celebrated both secularly and religiously across cultures, such as Christmas and Nowruz. Other holidays are secular yet-culture-specific, such as Kwanzaa and Boxing Day. However, for some people, there is the desire for a culture-general, secular holiday that provides a quiet respite and an alternative to the commercialized Christmas season. For anyone looking for such an escape, it is worth considering Festivus, which is celebrated on December 23rd.
Festivus was created by Daniel Lawrence O'Keefe in the 1960s. He started celebrating the holiday with his family around 1966. Festivus is Latin for “excellent, jovial, lively” and is derived from festus, meaning “joyous; holiday, feast day”. December 23rd was chosen because it was the anniversary of O’Keefe and his wife’s first date in 1963. After O’Keefe’s mother died in 1976, he coined the phrase “a Festivus for the rest of us” in which “the rest of us” refers to his living relatives.
O’Keefe’s son, Dan O’Keefe, worked as a television writer for the TV show Seinfield. Festivus first became known in pop culture when it was featured in an episode that aired on December 18, 1997. Thanks to Dan and the popularity of Seinfeld, Festivus became a new holiday option for those seeking a more secular, simplified December holiday. The Festivus rituals featured on Seinfield differ slightly from the O’Keefe family traditions. For example, the Seinfield episode included the “Festivus Pole” (an unadorned aluminum pole) while the O’Keefe tradition was putting a clock in a bag and nailing it to a wall, always using a different bag and clock each year. Festivus dinner on Seinfeld was meatloaf but in the O’Keefe household, it was turkey or ham. The Seinfield episode also covered two traditions, the “Airing of Grievances”, “Feats of Strength”, and “Festivus Miracles”. Google caught on to Festivus in 2012, adding it as a custom search result. In addition to the search results, the image of an unadorned aluminum pole is displayed alongside the list of search results and "A festivus miracle!" is jokingly listed above the list of search results. If you search “Festivus” on Google (as I just did), you will notice that Google announces something like “A festivus miracle! About 3,270,000 results (0.56 seconds)”. If you are curious, feel free to search “Festivus” yourself.
For anyone interested in celebrating Festivus this year on December 23rd, here’s a helpful guide:
- Get a Festivus pole (i.e., an aluminum pole)
- Prepare a Festivus dinner (i.e., meatloaf, turkey, ham etc.)
- Air your grievances (Thanks to technology, this is a popular daily pastime for many people on social media. But don’t let that stop you! Feel free to go low-tech and say it all out loud.)
- Join in the Feats of Strength (In lieu of wrestling, you may want to consider alternative activities, such as thumb wrestling. Be sure to follow Covid-19 safety protocols, no matter your activity of choice.)
- Call all slightly non-routine events “Festivus miracles” (ex: you randomly go to check your mailbox and when you open your door, the mail delivery person is standing there with a letter for you, you are talking about a memorable commercial you saw on TV and it comes on when you are talking about it etc.)
Even if you are religious or celebrate another holiday in December, you can still celebrate Festivus. It’s a simple holiday that anyone and everyone can enjoy!
Written by: Emily Kawasaki