What Is Festivus? The 'Seinfeld' Holiday for Airing Grievances, Explained

Festivus has become a holiday that has grown in acceptance since its television roots on a 1997 episode of Seinfeld. The celebration lands on Dec. 23 each year and shrugs off the commercialism that infects the Christmas holiday, opting instead for a non-secular gathering to eat together, air grievances and practice feats of strength under the non-decorative Festivus aluminum pole.

Daniel O'Keefe's brainchild was immortalized by his son Dan O'Keefe in 1997 for the Seinfeld episode, "The Strike." The elder O'Keefe celebrated the holiday starting in 1966, giving a chance to celebrate the anniversary of his first date with his future wife Deborah and continuing on for "the rest of us" in reference to the people left behind by the loss of O'Keefe's mother Jeanette in 1976.

Still, it didn't reach new heights until Seinfeld introduced it to the globe in Dec. 1997, delivering a classic episode that has lived on in popularity for over 20 years. In the episode, son Dan O'Keefe transfers his story to George Constanza and his father, Frank. For Constanza, the Festivus celebration is a nightmare from childhood created by his father after a violent altercation at the toy store.

"Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reach 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 Costanza explains to Kramer in the episode. "[Out] of that, a new holiday was born. 'A Festivus for the rest of us!'"

The aspects of Festivus that were enshrined on television include the aluminum pole replacing the gaudy Christmas tree covered in tinsel. There is also the "airing of grievances" around the dinner table, where you tell the people in your life how much they've disappointed you in the year prior, and then it is followed by the "feats of strength." The latter is a showdown between the head of the household and the warrior of their choosing, marching onward into combat until the head is pinned. Until they are pinned, the holiday will continue.

Away from the television series, many have adopted Festivus as a real holiday. Some of the items have been modified since their appearance on the show, like the creation of the pole, the actual feat for the "feats of strength," and just how deep the grievances should go. O'Keefe explained that the growth of the holiday and its inclusion on the series actually wasn't something he wanted to do. But once the cat was out of the bag, Jerry Seinfeld and the writers on the show wanted it to happen.

"Actually I didn't want to put it on TV. It was sort of a family disgrace, and then my younger brother let it slip that this went on, so the other writers and Jerry said, yeah, 'we'd like to give this to America.'" O'Keefe told CNN in 2013. "I said I don't think America wants it at all or should have it, but they prevailed upon me and now the chicken's have come home to roost."

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For 2020, some are actually advocating holding off on the deeper aspects of Festivus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While social distancing guidelines are already making any gathering difficult this year, the "airing of grievances" could pose a different issue after a year of being quarantined. Be careful if you're celebrating according to CNN and psychologist David Susman.

"I think the 'airing of grievances' as depicted in 'Seinfeld' is probably the last thing we need this year," Susman told the outlet. "With the compounded stresses from COVID-19, political strife and racial unrest from 2020, we need to focus on positivity, healing, and cooperation right now."