Introducing . . . Festivus Appreciation Day


Oct. 11, 2005 — -- Seven yadda-yadda years after "Seinfeld"'s finale episode, Festivus – the holiday for people fed up with holiday stress – continues to be celebrated in homes, schools, offices, bars and parking lots. And now, the holiday for the rest of us is getting a lot more attention.

Perhaps you've already welcomed a tinsel-free aluminum Festivus pole into your home, and you've celebrated just like George Costanza's fractured family, with the traditional Airing of Grievances – a time when family members let each other know what a disappointment they've been to each other.

These days, your cup can runneth over with Festivus Grape Ranch wine, and four varieties of Festivus beer. This Seinfeldian holiday has its own songs ("Gather 'Round the Pole"), recipes (Ham With Junior Mint and Snapple Glaze), and even a Miss Festivus pageant. If demand spikes, you can even be sure Ben & Jerry's will bring back Festivus flavor ice cream, which has already enjoyed two successful holiday runs.

TV has certainly done its share to shape holidays. Thanks to Seth Cohen's traumatic half-Jewish, half-gentile upbringing, "The O.C." can take credit for the explosion in Chrismakkuh cards, a genre of holiday greetings that include such images as a reindeer with menorah antlers. The "O.C." Web site even offers Chrismakkuh wrapping paper.

But one thing separates Festivus from all other holidays: It's not listed on any calendar – and its most fervent revelers demand it stay that way, so that Festivus can be celebrated without adding to pre-existing holiday pressure.

"One of the reasons Festivus is thriving is its flexibility," says Allen Salkin, author of "Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us" (Warner Books), which hits bookstores later this month.

"Festivus is the alternative to holidays with fixed dates and fixed rituals and leaders telling you what you are supposed to do," Salkin says. "Like a wrestler, Festivus fights being pinned down."

You may think Festivus should be celebrated on Dec. 23 – the date the Costanza family celebrates. George's father, Frank, explains to Kramer in a landmark 1997 episode that he invented the holiday many years ago, after he found himself at a department store locked in a tug of war over a doll that got torn to shreds.

"I realized there had to be a better way," Frank said, so he invented Festivus, the holiday "for the rest of us."

The Costanzas' tradition begins with a bare aluminum pole, which Frank praises for its "very high strength-to-weight ratio." The pole is unadorned. Nobody gives any gifts.

After the Airing of Grievances is the Feats of Strength, a ritual that calls for family members to wrestle until the head of the household is pinned to the floor – another tension-releasing stress-beater.

But in his book, Salkin traces the first real-life Festivus back to 1966. It was invented by the father of "Seinfeld" writer Daniel O'Keefe, a sociologist and Reader's Digest editor in Chappaqua, N.Y., who wanted to start a fun, family tradition loosely based on ancient Roman festivals (or, as they say in Latin, "Festivi").

The first Festivus was held in February, to mark O'Keefe's parents' first date. Even then, there were bizarre rituals. "There was a clock in a bag," O'Keefe tells Salkin, although he does not recall what it came to symbolize, or when the aluminum pole took on significance.

These days, there are Festivus celebrations all year long, with various permutations. In some places, the Festivus pole is also used for limbo contests. Other places ring in the holidays with a little Festivus pole-dancing.

Through it all, Jerry Stiller, who played Frank Costanza, accepts the mantle of "Father of Festivus," at least to "Seinfeld" fans, and declares that he, too, has embraced the holiday.

"For some people, the revelation comes too late that life is best kept to the essentials," Stiller says in the book's forward.

"Some people are given their last rites and that person might say in their last breath, 'I should have celebrated Festivus.'"

As a man who has cherished "National Psychics Week," "Talk Like a Pirate Day" and other quasi-holidays, I tried to convince Salkin of the benefit of having a national day, if not for the Festivus celebration, then at least for Festivus Appreciation.

And with a little negotiation with the editors at Chase's Calendar of Events – America's official keeper of all silly holidays – Festivus Appreciation Day is now officially listed as Dec. 23. This doesn't mean you can't celebrate whenever you want, only that you might want to set aside some time to thank "Seinfeld" – a show that always proclaimed to be about nothing – for its humble contributions to modern living.

Holiday purists will sneer at Festivus and Chrismakkuh. But if you haven't noticed, creating quasi-holidays has become something of an obsession, especially in the last six weeks of the year. If you check out some of the events that have earned listings on national calendars, Festivus Appreciation Day may soon qualify as a federal holiday.

Here are a few:

Dec. 28: Econo-Christmas Day: Ever notice how prices for Christmas decorations, gifts and goodies drop the day after Christmas? Celebrants of Econo-Christmas take advantage of all those end-of-year sales by deciding to just hold off on the gift-giving a few days, so that everyone gets a bargain.

Dec. 26: National Whiners Day: A day dedicated to whiners, especially those who return Christmas gifts. The celebration, held each year since 1986, culminates with the picking of the year's top whiners. Noted winners over the past decade: Zsa Zsa Gabor, Tammy Faye Bakker, Mike Tyson, Martha Stewart and last year's whining champ, the Democratic Party.

Dec. 25: A'phabet Day: Also known as "No-L Day," this is a celebration for people who don't want to send Christmas Cards. Bob Birch, president of The Pun Corps, who also created "Compliment Your Mirror Day (July 3), reminds everyone to have a "punderful" day.

Dec. 21: Humbug Day: Another day to air holiday frustrations. Celebrants are allowed 12 "humbugs." Founders Thomas & Ruth Roy are faux holiday legends, who have created such venerable holidays as Cat Herder's Day (Dec. 15), a celebration for anyone who believes their job, or their life, is as frustrating as trying to heard cats. Then there's the much more practical Don't Step on a Bee Day (July 10) and Have-a-Bad-Day Day (Nov. 19) for those who are tired of hearing, "Have a nice day."

The Roys have created more than 60 holidays, some as wild as Bathtub Party Day (Dec. 5), which they sell cards for on their Web site. In a spooky coincidence, many years ago, they created No News Is Good News Day, an event that was once celebrated on, of all days, Sept. 11, when you were encouraged to not read, listen or watch news. It has since been de-listed.

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at "The Wolf Files" is published Tuesdays.

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