A couple of years ago my friends and I got the idea to have a Festivus party. We were in Estes Park for the Highland Games and, I’m not sure how Festivus came up…maybe because the Highland Games are a great display of Feats of Strength….but we thought it would be fun to do. After returning home and sobering up the idea dissolved and nothing came of it.
Many of my readers (disappointingly so) don’t know what Festivus is and so I’ll take some time to explain.
Remember the 90’s? Remember that awesome show, Seinfeld? In season 9, episode 10 (I think) there was a show called The Strike. The Strike, like all Seinfeld episodes, was about a lot of nothing but one of those little bits was about Festivus. In the show, it was a holiday made up by George Castanza’s father. According to his father it began when, one year he was buying a doll for George and there was one left. He reached for it at the same time as another man. As he “rained blows down on the man” he thought, “There must be a better way…” The doll was destroyed but Festivus was created.
It’s a holiday that shuns the commercialism of Christmas and Hanukkah and does not revolve around any religious beliefs. It begins with the Airing of the Grievances. This is when you tell everyone gathered at the Festivus meal “all the ways they’ve disappointed you throughout the year.” You know, like what happens at family holiday meals anyway but Festivus makes it an official tradition. The festivities end with the Feats Of Strength and the head of the house is pinned. There are no real decorations for Festivus as that feeds the monster of commercialism. There is only the Festivus Pole. This is an unadorned aluminum pole. That’s it.
Many people believe Seinfeld started Festivus and that it was created in the 90’s but the real Festivus began earlier than that by the O’Keefe family. Dan O’Keefe was a writer for Seinfeld and that’s how it got into the show. While the Seinfeld Festivus is celebrated on December 23rd the original Festivus began in the 1960’s and had no set date. It could be any time. There was no pole. Instead, Dan O’Keefe’s father would put a clock in a bag and nail it to the wall. There was no explanation for what this symbolized. His father would just say, “It’s not for you to know!” For more details of the original Festivus go here: http://festivusweb.com/origin-of-festivus.htm To watch the Seinfeld episode with Festivus go here: http://www.crackle.com/c/seinfeld/the-strike/2483688
This year I decided to finally make it happen. We were going to have a Festivus party and although, those who know of Festivus recognize it on the 23rd, in the true spirit of the holiday it can be held whenever you dang well please. My Mountain People typically have our weekly-sometimes-monthly Pizza Night on Thursday nights and so this Thursday, instead of Pizza Night we celebrated Festivus.For our Festivus meal we went potluck and I asked everyone to bring a re-gift for the re-gift exchange. I bought an aluminum pole at Home Depot for $3 and stuck it into a flower pot. Voila! Festivus was set.
One afternoon I picked up the Jr. High carpool kids and Festivus came up.
“What is that?” they asked. I explained and then was surprised at how excited the kids got.
“I’m going to start my list of grievances for my brother as soon as I get home!” one of my little girls announced.
“Well…we won’t have time to hear an actual year’s worth of grievances and…it’s all in fun, we don’t want to hurt his feelings,” I said.
“Oh, he’s used to it!” she said flippantly.
The others in the car began plotting and scheming about what gift they would re-gift.
I had not expected this. I thought the kids would go play in the basement while the adults partied upstairs, per usual. It seems Festivus would indeed be a family affair.
Last night we had our party. Each family brought their offering of nourishment to the table and, after all had arrived and everyone had eaten, we began the Airing Of The Grievances. It is important that, if you host a Festivus party yourself, you invite people of good humor and thick skin. Folks must come with the right attitude and I mentioned this to my friends in their invitations (which were done via email and text because you don’t purchase things for Festivus.) To save time, each guest was allowed to air one grievance. I put everyone’s name in a hat and then I aired my grievance first to demonstrate. I donned a black cape and held the symbolic Club Of Grievance in my right hand and a candle in my left. These things had no actual meaning. We just did it to kick it up a notch, sort of an “I have the conch” thing. (If you don’t know that reference I’m ashamed for you.)
“Welcome newcomers, Festivus begins with the Airing of the Grievances,” I began as Mr. Castanza did in the Seinfeld episode. “I have a lot of problems with you people! And you’re gonna hear about it!”
My actual grievance was regarding carpool: “Buddy, Mimi, and E-cat, I pick the three of you up everyday. You load into my car and you bring with you….the most AWFUL smell! It’s the Jr. High stink. It smells like dirty socks and locker rooms. Please attend to this problem. Grievance aired.”
I then drew a name from a hat. When I read the name, everyone began to chant until said person was cloaked in the Cape of Grievance and handed the club and candle. Then the party goers all said, ‘Shhhhh!” and the grievance began. After they had made their official complaint we all said, “Grievance aired!” It was absolute silliness and we were on a loop of laughter!
My Man’s grievance was for all of our friends: “Stop entertaining my wife’s every whim for a party. Just don’t open your emails!”
Caren’s grievance was for Robby’s Man: “We have all celebrated a lot of holidays together but I’ve not once been invited to one of your Jewish holiday celebrations. It’s not just you. None of my Jewish friends have ever invited me and I want to go and experience that.”
“Tonight is the 3rd night of Hanukkah,” Robby’s Man began when it was his turn. He explained the menorah and lighting the candles from right to left each night, “and we say this prayer.” He used the club to pretend lighting the candle and recited the prayer of lights. It was a very moving moment. I will tell you, I was a little verklempt. This is what Festivus is all about, Charlie Brown.
Another well done and rather sweet grievance was Robby’s: “My grievance is with our Canadian family. I don’t think you are trying hard enough to figure out how to stay here in the states. Instead of moving back to Canada this summer you could stay here has undocumented immigrants!” It was also funny how hard it was for the Canadians to come up with a grievance. So polite.
After the Airing Of The Grievances we moved on to the Re-gift Exchange.
“Festivus ends when the head of the house is pinned,” I announced after the Re-gift Exchange. In the Seinfeld episode, George had to wrestle his father. “…and so the party does not end until Buddy and Bug pin My Man. To the basement! Let’s rumble!”
It was a very fun night and I’m so glad we included the children. It made things go a little long (the whole thing was over in 2 hours) but it was really fun to see them be silly with us. I gave each guest a parting gift, a certificate stating that a donation to the Human Fund was made in their name. (Once you watch the episode of Seinfeld, The Strike…you will get it.)
“Great party, Michal!”
“Yes, this was a wonderful First Annual Festivus Party,” said a guest as she parted.
“Did you hear that?” a friend poked My Man, “It’s going to be annual!”
My Man hung his head and rubbed his brow. Clearly, no one cared to do anything about his grievance.