Author’s note: This edition of Geek Trivia originally appeared on Dec. 12, 2007, but since today is your friendly neighborhood Trivia Geek’s birthday — and thus he’s already started his holiday merry-making — he lazily recycled this Classic Geek to fill space. Think of it as the gift that keeps on giving, because you’ve received it twice. Enjoy.
On Dec. 18, 1997, the Seinfeld episode “The Strike” aired for the first time, introducing the world to the now infamous faux holiday, Festivus. Billed as a counterpoint to the perceived increasing commercialism of Christmas (even though said commercialism is vital to the economy), Festivus — the so-called “holiday for the rest of us” — struck a chord with audiences, and real-world celebrations of this fictional festivity have been on the rise ever since.
For those unfamiliar with Festivus, here are its primary rituals and traditions as described on the show:
- In lieu of a Christmas tree or Menorah, there is simply an aluminum Festivus Pole. The Pole is undecorated, and there should be no gifts beneath it (or purchased at all, actually).
- Rather than an exchange of gifts, family members embark on an Airing of Grievances, in which each person explains how the other people present have disappointed him or her this year. This event usually follows the Festivus Dinner, which is often meatloaf or spaghetti with red sauce, rather than turkey, ham, or brisket.
- Instead of singing hymns or carols, members of the household engage in Feats of Strength. All Festivus rituals, particularly the Airing of Grievances, must continue until the head of the household is successfully pinned during the Feats of Strength.
Despite its absurdity — or perhaps because of it — many groups and families now throw Festivus parties during the December holiday season. (On the show, Festivus officially occurs on December 23.)
You can even order an official Festivus Pole online, track down some official Festivus seasonal wine, and perhaps even grab a carton of vintage Festivus-flavored Ben & Jerry’s ice cream on eBay. (OK, so the flavor has since been discontinued, but you can vote online to resurrect it, which might count as a Festivus miracle.)
Lost in all this Festivus revelry is the fact that, despite Seinfeld‘s role in popularizing Festivus, the holiday is not original to the sitcom. In fact, Festivus was over 30 years old when “The Strike” first aired a decade ago.
Ironically, for a holiday ostensibly devoted to denouncing commercialization, Festivus may have been commercialized to the point of obscuring its own origins.
WHO IS THE ORIGINAL CREATOR OF THE FAUX HOLIDAY FESTIVUS?
Who is the original creator of Festivus, an absurdist faux-holiday 30 years older than the episode of Seinfeld that made it internationally famous?
The true Father of Festivus is former Reader’s Digest editor Dan O’Keefe, who first concocted a familiar version of Festivus in 1966. His son Daniel O’Keefe was a scriptwriter for Seinfeld in 1997, and it was he who first brought his family’s peculiar personal holiday to the attention of the sitcom, setting in motion the media-driven evolution of Festivus as we know it today. You can read all about it in his book, The Real Festivus.
The first rule of the true Festivus is that there are no rules. In fact, true Festivus isn’t an antidote to Christmas, because it can be — and has been — celebrated at almost any time of the year.
Pretty much anytime the elder O’Keefe felt the need, he conjured up an excuse — and a theme — for a Festivus celebration. For example, the inaugural Festivus predates Daniel O’Keefe or any of his siblings, as Dan O’Keefe simply coined the term to describe the anniversary of his and his wife’s first date.
During the 1970s, Dan O’Keefe was doing research for a book titled Stolen Lightning, which documented the sociological functions of rituals and superstitions. His investigations into these subjects provided him endless fodder to conjure up oblique and unusual Festivus “traditions,” each unique to the specific Festivus celebration being planned. The most memorable of these Festivi made their way into the younger O’Keefe’s contributions to the Seinfeld version of the show.
(As an aside, it’s worth noting that Festivus is not the only major plot element of “The Strike” that viewers mistakenly believe is entirely fictional. On the show, George Costanza invents a fake charity called The Human Fund as a ruse to avoid giving Christmas gifts. There is an actual Human Fund charity that benefits at-risk youth in Cleveland, so be sure to consider that when making up your Festivus greeting cards.)
Truth, it seems, is stranger than Festivus — but it does make for some seasonally surreal Geek Trivia.
The quibble of the week
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As this is a Classic Geek and folks are about to head off on holiday vacation, we bring you — instead of our typical showcase of quibblery — a chance to answer this question:
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