A Blog Post for the Rest of Us

I am a big fan of holiday tradition. My family has a lot of them, from watching Christmas Vacation on the day after Thanksgiving to eating cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Christmas day. Some of them are pretty normal, like spending an evening driving around to look at Christmas lights or eating a special dinner before attending church on Christmas Eve. Others are a little more unique like topping our Christmas tree with a star that is in turn topped with a candy cane or donning new pajamas after church on Christmas Eve before going to the movies.

Here’s a tradition I can get behind.

But I like to think that none of our traditions are quite as out there as the one observed in the O’Keefe household on December 23. It was sometime around 1966 when author Daniel O’Keefe introduced his family to a new kind of celebration, one that marked the anniversary of his first date with his wife and took a moment to step away from the commercialism of the Christmas season.

O’Keefe called the family celebration “Festivus,” and when his mother died ten years later, they continued to celebrate the day as a unique little holiday “for the rest of us,” meaning those who were still alive to enjoy it.

Some traditions are not worth keeping alive, like chestnuts roasting over an open fire. Turns out they’re kind of gross.

The observance of Festivus in the O’Keefe household involved a simple family meal, a clock placed in a bag that was then nailed to the wall, the airing of grievances, recognition of the mundane as the miraculous, and feats of strength.

Actually, it’s not entirely clear to me whether all of these elements existed in the original O’Keefe Festivus celebration or if some of them come only from the Seinfeld episode that launched this quirky family tradition into the mainstream in 1997. Daniel O’Keefe’s son Dan was a writer for the sitcom and allegedly he didn’t want the tale of Festivus explored in an episode, but was overruled by his fellow writers who heard about it and thought it was hilarious.

The holiday looked a little different on the small screen than it had in the O’Keefe household. The clock and bag nailed to the wall (for what reason, no one can say) was replaced by an unadorned aluminum Festivus pole, and the airing of grievances began with George’s father Frank Costanza announcing, “I got a lotta problems with you people and now you’re going to hear about it!” after a fairly generic meatloaf dinner. Feats of strength became a wrestling match with the head of the household, the pinning of whom signaled the end of the celebration. And the inconvenient coincidences and misunderstandings worthy of any good sitcom episode became Festivus miracles.

There it is, in all its high strength to weight ratio aluminum glory, right next to the leg lamp from A Christmas Story.

When asked by Mark Nelson, the writer behind FestivusWeb.com and Festivus! The Book!, the definitive work on the holiday, whether Dan O’Keefe still observes Festivus, he answered. “No.” But thanks to the Seinfeld episode, lots of people now do. Festivus poles have adorned the Wisconsin’s governor mansion, the Florida State Capitol building, and, I recently discovered, the holidays through the ages tree display at the “Christmas Traditions” festival in St. Charles, Missouri.

It’s worth noting, too, that as I type this, editing software has no problem with the word “festivus,” as long as I capitalize it. And if for some reason you hop on Twitter today, I’ve no doubt #Festivus and #AHolidayForTheRestOfUs will be trending.

But Festivus will probably not be a big part of my day. In preparation for writing this post, I revisited the Seinfeld episode (“The Strike,” season 9) with my 14-year-old who said, “Well, that’s stupid.” He’s not wrong. It is stupid, but come to think of it, I do have a few grievances to air:

  1. Yesterday, I ended up on a group text with literally no one whose name is saved in my phone and endured an hour or so of twenty unidentifiable people wishing all of us a merry Christmas while I was trying to use my phone to listen to an audio book.
  2. Missouri drivers continue to ignore the basic stop sign rule of stop first, go first, and instead, insist on waving on the other drivers at a 4-way stop. I’m especially annoyed when I get waved on and it is actually my turn. Because I know the rule and don’t need the prompt.
  3. My children continue to leave a trail of dirty socks and dishes everywhere they go. I do not know how to make this stop.
If I managed to serve a meatloaf that my children would eat, that would be a Festivus miracle. Image by valtercirillo, via Pixabay

Also, though it doesn’t seem likely that I will wind up wrestling anyone today, my youngest son has recently become obsessed enough with working out that he has created a fitness schedule for all of us through winter break and I’m pretty sure it’s leg day. I’m going to say that counts as my feat of strength.

And then there’s the fact that in the midst of all the other silly, but somehow important, Christmas traditions around my house, I managed to post to my blog just two days before the big day. That is something of a Festivus Miracle.

So, dear reader, Happy Festivus. I guess. Enjoy your meatloaf. Feel free to air your grievances in the comments.

14 thoughts on “A Blog Post for the Rest of Us

  1. I cannot but concur with the frustration caused by some Missouri drivers (sort of). To add a further dimension, I loathe it when it is someone’s turn on the road and they wave you on ahead of themselves. Don’t they know the rules? I love meat loaf – but not for Christmas! Festivus I know not – in fact I cannot even spell Sienfelt! We are entrenched in our Christmas menu. It’s been the same for 20 years! This year we are trying to start to break out of it and are replacing “Holiday Green Beans” as a side with an “Avocado Salad”! Daring eh?! Have a wonderful Christmas and 2022 Sarah!

  2. I did not know the history of Festivus. As for holiday meals, I’m all for changing them up every year, but I’m not a huge traditionalist and feasts can be so varied, so good for you with the steaks! People in Virginia wave people on as well, but mostly, it’s because people are so unpredictable that it’s best to catch the other driver’s eye to ensure they aren’t going to go out of turn. The same is true for pedestrians–I always catch the driver’s eye before moving in front of the car… Marry Christmas to you!

  3. Kenneth W Lee

    I love your stuff, Sarah. Your wit is refreshing and your skill as a writer puts me to shame. Having said that…I have never in my life known a tradition that needed to be stopped as much as “Festivus.” Growing up, there were always fights over gifts and being confined with family for long periods of time which resulted in feats of strength that nearly destroyed any love we had for one another. Airing one’s grievances arbitrarily only leads to bitterness and unforgiveness. I agree the Seinfeld episode was hilarious, but it also brought back memories I am thrilled to forget. Festivus is NOT for the rest of us. Peace on Earth Good Will to the rest of us all.

    1. It certainly seems like Christmas tends to bring enough stress of its own without the addition of Festivus. That’s probably why Dan O’Keefe was so quick to say he does not observe it, and why George Costanza was loath to do so.

  4. I have an answer to your #3 grievance: “My children continue to leave a trail of dirty socks and dishes everywhere they go. I do not know how to make this stop.”

    The answer? It will never stop and you can’t make it. My grown son recently moved back in for a few months in anticipation of a move across the country. While he doesn’t leave a “trail” of dirty socks, he has indeed, three, count them, three laundry baskets. For some reason unknown to me, he waits until all three are full before he washes. Granted, this could be because he has long lived in an apartment without a washer/dryer and fewer trips to a laundry mat are preferred. But we have a conveniently located washer and dryer, appliances that in close proximity to where he makes his never-ending supply of coffee. I am grateful for the lack of a trail, but would prefer he go ahead and wash when he has a load. And that’s my grievance for Festivus.

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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