Geek Trivia: Reason for the season

Who is the original creator of Festivus, an absurdist faux-holiday 30 years older than the episode of Seinfeld that made it internationally famous?

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.


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By Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...