Festivus Is Now Just as Bad as Christmas

We have a grievance to air
Festivus Is Now Just as Bad as Christmas

Today is a very special day, arguably the highlight of the winter season for fans of Seinfeld and aluminum pole retailers. Yes, it’s Festivus, the holiday for “the rest of us,” when we all get together with loved ones to air our grievances and awkwardly wrestle on the carpet. 

Frank Costanza’s made-up celebration may be bizarre, but ever since it first appeared in the 1997 episode “The Strike,” Festivus has become an indelible part of our cultural landscape. 

And we’re ruining it.

Perhaps humanity was just not ready to be trusted with something as pure and virtuous as Festivus, because, over the past two decades, Frank’s vision has been corrupted, and its original message sullied, by a glut of fevered commercialism. To put it another way: We’ve turned Festivus into Christmas.

As Frank tells Kramer, he invented Festivus specifically as an alternative to Christmas, which has been forever tainted by commercialization. Frank came to this realization after brutally pummeling a fellow toy shopper, after he had reached for the same doll that Frank wanted to buy for George.

But now Festivus has, itself, become a commercially-driven enterprise. Despite the fact that it was founded with a distinctly anti-materialist agenda, Festivus has spawned countless pieces of disposable merchandise ranging from mugs, to T-shirts, to sweaters — and, confusingly, Christmas tree ornaments. 

There’s even a Festivus-themed board game, for families who are looking for new and exciting ways to alienate each other during the holidays. 

As for the traditional Festivus aluminum pole, putting up a large metal post in lieu of a Christmas tree has seemingly become much more popular in recent years. So much so that in 2021, Seinfeld’s social media accounts partnered with the environmental nonprofit One Tree Planted, to promote the idea that one could “save a tree” by celebrating with a Festivus pole instead.

Even independent of this campaign, people seem to be incorporating poles into their seasonal decorations, while somehow missing the whole goddamn point of the pole. Frank’s pole was all about creating the minimalist antithesis of a gaudy Christmas tree, telling Kramer that he finds tinsel “distracting.” But for some reason, folks are wrapping their poles with blinking colored lights. Walmart even sells an inflatable (aggressively phallic) Festivus pole eyesore, complete with a giant sign, which hardly seems to be in the spirit of the fake holiday. 

Remarkably, in 2013, a Florida resident successfully lobbied to have a Festivus pole included alongside the nativity scene at the state capitol building, part of an effort to protest the lack of separation between church and state. Sure, he made his point, but in a real slap to the face of Festivus, he covered the entire pole with empty PBR cans. 

Speaking of Florida, the Tampa Bay Times has turned Frank’s idea of the “Airing of Grievances” into an annual feature, in which readers are invited to write in with their complaints and have them published. But while the grievances of Festivus are aired with friends and family members, in person (perhaps with the potential for emotional growth) the Times’ feature has included everything from gripes about traffic to annoyances with COVID mask-wearing. Last year, some of the complaints were even about the “normalizing of complaints,” which seems like a pretty far cry from what our lord and savior Frank Costanza intended.

To be fair, in real life, the origins of Festivus are far less savory. Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe famously patterned the storyline after his own father’s made-up holiday, which was likely a symptom of his undiagnosed bipolar disorder and unchecked alcoholism. Instead of a pole, the O’Keefes put up a clock in a bag. Instead of the 23rd of December, it “could just happen whenever the fuck he felt like it.” And the “Airing of Grievances” was really just “a very formalized setting for yelling” at his children. 

Regardless of its distressing beginnings, Festivus clearly isn’t going anywhere. Last year, whoever runs Seinfeld’s social media accounts made headlines for launching a petition to recognize Festivus as a national holiday, and it received more than 15,000 signatures. This year in Salem, Massachusetts there’s a “Festivus 5K Run for Autism,” and the Erie Ale Works Brewery will be hosting their ninth Festivus celebration.

Look, we don’t want to get all Kirk Cameron “reason for the season” on you — after all, part of the fun of Festivus is that it is completely untethered from any sort of traditional holiday dogma — but let’s not forget that Festivus is supposed to be one big “fuck you” to the “commercial and religious aspects of Christmas.” Turning this anti-capitalist holiday into an opulent money-making bonanza feels a little like serving fried rabbit for Easter dinner. 

You (yes, you) should follow JM on Twitter (if it still exists by the time you’re reading this).

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