The real father of Festivus

A secular alternative to Christmas, Festivus is a December holiday “for the rest of us” made famous by a 1997 episode of “Seinfeld.”

While millions around the world prepare for Christmas, thousands of loyal Seinfeld fans begin to gather around their unadorned aluminum poles and air their grievances for Festivus. But just what is Festivus, the “holiday” celebrated two days before Christmas?

NBC Jerry Stiller, who played George Costanza&#821

NBCJerry Stiller, who played George Costanza’s father, Frank, with the Festivus pole.

Though it became famous thanks to the 1997 Festivus episode of Seinfeld, the holiday “for the rest of us” started with one real American family in 1966 — and has since turned into a bonafide cultural phenomenon.

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If O’Keefe is the son of the man who created Festivus, does that mean that he’s the real life George Costanza? Not exactly, but there are some similarities when it comes to how they reacted when it came time to “celebrate.” For example, while Frank’s observation of Festivus begins on Dec. 23, the O’Keefe tradition was not bound to a single date. Festivus could happen at any time, so there was always a sense of impending doom.

“I did try to escape once,” O’Keefe admits. “It was a floating holiday, it actually didn’t have a set date in real life, you could have it at any time. The only warning we got was coming home and getting off the school bus, and there was weird sh*t on the walls and strange music being played. But sometimes he said, ‘It’s starting to look a lot like Festivus,’ in a sort of ominous voice. That usually meant it’s going to happen in the next hour. One year I couldn’t hack it, so I ran down to my friend’s house and when I came back they held it for me.”

2. Festivus originated decades before Seinfeld

The cast of Seinfeld / Getty Images

On December 18, 1997, toward the end of Seinfeld’s triumphant run on NBC, a holiday-themed episode called “The Strike” aired. In it, viewers learned about Festivus, a holiday invented by the Costanzas, in which each member of the family tells the others all the ways they have disappointed. But Dan O’Keefe, who co-wrote the episode, didn't just pull the idea from his imagination; he based it on a tradition that his father, a former editor at Reader's Digest, created in the mid-1960s.

"It was entirely more peculiar than on the show," O’Keefe told The New York Times in 2004. Though there was no aluminum pole, O’Keefe confirmed that the “airing of grievances” was very real (they said them into a tape recorder) and that he and his two brothers would ritually wrestle. "Most of the Festivi had a theme," he said. "One was, 'Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?' Another was, 'Too easily made glad?'"

While December 23rd has become its official date, that was not the case in the O'Keefe household. "It did not have a set date," O'Keefe told Mother Jones in 2013. "We never knew when it was going to happen until we got off the school bus and there were weird decorations around our house and weird French '60s music playing."

Is Festivus a real holiday?

What is real, anyway? Festivus was made up for a TV show, but every year since the 1997, people have been celebrating it. And didn’t every holiday begin with someone making up dumb traditions? So yes, Virginia, there is a Festivus.

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During what episode of Seinfeld was Festivus portrayed?

The holiday was portrayed in The Strike episode in season nine of Seinfeld.

"A Festivus for the rest of us!" said George Costanza's father Frank – played by Jerry Stiller – in the episode.

“Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had – but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way!” Frank explains in the episode.

Cosmo Kramer, played by Michael Richards, quickly embraced the holiday, but abandons it toward the end of the episode when Frank invites him to wrestle in the feats of strength.

"Frank, no offense, but this holiday is a little out there," Kramer tells Frank.

The episode also follows Kramer's years-long strike at H&H Bagels, Jerry Seinfeld's experience with two-face women and George's (played by Jason Alexander) attempt to skimp on holiday gifts.

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Dan O'Keefe wrote The Strike episode of Seinfeld that depicted Festivus, it is a tradition with his family that they conceived in 1966Credit: Getty Images

The Real Festivus

The idea of Festivus originally came to Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe from a tradition started by his own father, Daniel O’Keefe. The elder O’Keefe had unilaterally invented Festivus, which had a vague origin in 1966 on the occasion of Daniel’s first date with his soon to be fiancée Deborah. As the years went by, he shared the weird facets of his unique holiday with his three sons. Later, his eldest son Dan, a television script-writer, shared it with the world by including “Festivus” in a 1997 episode of Seinfeld. (Read More)

Seinfeld Episode: The Strike

The Seinfeldian origins of the Festivus traditions can be dated back to the 9th season episode titled “The Strike“. In this episode Frank Costanza expresses a concern over the increased commercialism and consumerism that tends to saturate the December holiday season.

Script of “The Strike” Episode

In this episode, Frank Costanza tells the story of a routine outing to secure a Christmas gift for his son George where he came to the realization that there should be a new holiday:

Frank Costanza: Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way. Cosmo Kramer: What happened to the doll? Frank Costanza: It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born… a Festivus for the rest of us! Cosmo Kramer: That must have been some kind of doll. Frank Costanza: She was. (… more quotes)

In the episode, Kramer becomes interested in resurrecting the holiday after hearing about the plight of his friend—Frank Costanza’s son—George (played by Jason Alexander).

Meanwhile George uses Festivus, a holiday he once hated in his youth, as a excuse to his boss Mr. Kruger after he had been confronted for handing out cards suggesting a donation had been made to a fake charity called The Human Fund (with the slogan "Money For People"). George defended himself saying that he feared persecution for his beliefs. Attempting to call his bluff, Kruger insisted that he accompany George to his home and see Festivus in action.

Kramer, who was also invited to the celebration, goes on strike from his bagel vendor job, when his manager tells him he can’t get time off for "Festivus." Kramer is then seen on the street with a sign which reads "Festivus yes! Bagels no!"

7. Dan OKeefe was against writing Festivus into Seinfeld

‘Seinfeld’ writer Dan O’Keefe / Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Though it sprung from his own childhood, O'Keefe didn't pitch the Seinfeld team on the idea of a Festivus-themed episode. In fact, he wasn't sold that it would resonate with viewers. O'Keefe mentioned his family tradition in passing one day to another writer on the show, and the idea snowballed from there.

“I didn't pitch it," O'Keefe told Mother Jones. "I fought against it. I thought it would be embarrassing and drag the show down, but … Jerry liked it."

Extra Effort to Make Jesus Explicit

It’s doubtful that the best way forward for Christians is to abandon Christmas and make up some new holiday that gets it all right. Macleod’s solution has a better chance. When the world makes so much of a holiday once so deeply Christian, and thus tacitly invites Jesus’s followers to speak, let’s not blush, smile, and mutter a few banalities. Let’s speak with clarity and conviction.

Let’s talk in concrete terms about why we celebrate, and whom, about the day when God became man, without ceasing to be God, that he might live among us as fully human and die the death we deserved for our collective and individual rebellions against him.

Let’s make it plain in our homes, and among our extended families, and for our friends, that Christmas is not a fantastical birthday party for a tribal deity, but as Macleod says, “the perforation of history by One from eternity . . . the intrusion and eruption of the Eternal into the existence of man.” Christmas has a spectacular Light that the seasonal glitz and glamor incessantly threatens to obscure, but is much too precious to let be dimmed.

The Real Origins Of The Festivus Episode Of Seinfeld

Festivus seems too ridiculous to be real. But for Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe, it was just a part of growing up.

NBC George Costanza (played by Jason Alexander, mi

NBCGeorge Costanza (played by Jason Alexander, middle) is forced to celebrate Festivus with his family.

“It is a fake holiday my dad made up in the ’60s to celebrate the anniversary of his first date with my mother,” O’Keefe explained.

“It was something that we celebrated as a family in a very peculiar way through the ’70s, and then I never spoke of it again. I had actually forgotten about it because I had blotted it out of my mind.”

On Festivus, O’Keefe and his family aired grievances and tried to outdo each other in feats of strength. Though he mentioned it once to one of his fellow Seinfeld writers, O’Keefe had no intention of including it in the show.

But the other writers found it wonderfully weird — and, more importantly, so did Jerry Seinfeld.

“‘Jerry [Seinfeld] thinks this is hilarious and we want to put it in the show,” O’Keefe remembers the other writers telling him.

They convinced O’Keefe to help write the episode, which he did — throwing in “true” parts of Festivus like its tagline, “a Festival for the Rest of Us” and adding weird, new details like the Festivus pole.

“That came out of Festivus being anti-commercial, and what’s the least like a tree?” said Alec Berg, one of the writers on the episode. “A warm living thing, and just an antiseptic metal pole.”

Still, O’Keefe remarked that his family’s version of the holiday was “entirely more peculiar than on the show.” For some reason — O’Keefe can’t imagine why — his family’s version included a clock in a bag.

“It didn’t have a set date [and] in real life it could just happen whenever the f–k [my father] felt like it,” O’Keefe explained. “In one year, there were two for some reason; one year, there were none. You never knew when it was coming.”

Though the episode aired to great acclaim, no one could have predicted what would come next. The O’Keefe family’s fake holiday delighted people so much that they decided to celebrate it for themselves.

What does ‘a Festivus for the rest of us’ mean?

The phrase “a Festivus for the rest of us” was coined by O’Keefe’s father. “The rest of us” refers to the members of the family who remained after his wife died, so the “rest of us” are the living. It’s a pretty dark holiday.

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