Festivus is celebrated annually on December 23, halfway between winter solstice and Christmas. The Roman comic poet Plautus from the 3rd century BCE originally used the term Festivus to refer to "wild celebrations attended by average citizens cutting loose on religious holidays." Today it is celebrated as an alternative to Christmas, with the slogan "A Festivus, for the rest of us."
The original Festivus was created in 1966, and further developed in the 1970's, by Daniel O'Keefe. However the holiday was catapulted into pop culture by the TV comedy "Seinfeld."
The idea of Festivus is that it is a holiday that can be celebrated by anybody -- people of faith or people who don't identify with a religion. According to the Festivus episode of "Seinfeld," Frank Costanza, played by Jerry Stiller, thought up the idea after engaging 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. The idea of a noncommercial holiday is essential to Festivus, which is why it has grown in popularity.
Anyone who wants an alternative to a commercialized holiday can celebrate Festivus.
The original holiday was celebrated with several traditions:
- The official greeting is "Happy Festivus."
- A wrestling match among the children in the family.
- An airing of grievances. Each person present complains to friends and family about all the ways in which they have disappointed him/her during the previous year.
- A clock in a bag. The significance of this item has been lost to history.
- A yearly theme. Daniel O'Keefe son of the inventor recalls that one was "Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?" Another was "Too easily made glad?"
The show added two more traditions:
Today's celebrants have begun to add their own traditions to Festivus. Anyone celebrating Festivus can keep it is as simple or ornate as they wish. There are no restrictions or mandates on Festivus. Some people even move Festivus from its traditional date on December 23.
- A Christmas tree substitute made of a plain aluminum pole without decoration. Costanza found "tinsel distracting." Apparently, the simple, unadorned pole was in reaction to ornate Christmas trees with layers of expensive decorations.
- The celebration concludes when the head of the family is wrestled to the floor and pinned. Sometimes the wrestling is a spontaneous outcome of the airing of grievances!