Festivus or Pfeffernuesse - Take Your Pick

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I learned something today.

I was listening to a local radio station in the car while my wife was in the post office when I heard the announcer say:  “Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, happy Festivus and happy Kwanzaa!”

It was one of those taped greetings that are played throughout the broadcast, and I wasn’t paying close attention.  But once I had processed what I had just heard, I did a double-take.

Um, excuse me?  Hanukkah?  Festivus?

I’m sure this greeting was recorded weeks ago and was the radio station’s (weak) effort at being “inclusive.”  But really!   Hanukkah has been over for more than a week.  I wonder what kind of strange looks I would get if I were to wish someone merry Christmas sometime, say, during the first week of January?  I’d expect him or her to say “aren’t you a little late, bucko?”  I’ll have to do some experimental research on this one a few weeks hence and get back to you.

Festivus for the Resters of Us, Image Credit: Nomadic Lass via Flickr

And what the heck is Festivus?!

Hanukkah is the winter holiday that I grew up celebrating, and it would be hard to reside in the United States and not be aware of Christmas.  Kwanzaa I learned about back in the nineties; after all, the seven-day festival was created by a college professor right here in California.

But Festivus — well, I have to admit that’s a new one on me.  Not being one who enjoys ignorance, of course I had to look it up.

I could hardly believe what I was reading.

Apparently, Festivus is a “fake” holiday based on “The Strike,” an old episode of the TV show Seinfeld.  I have to admit, I get a kick out of the phrase “fake holiday.”  While it falls short of oxymoron status, I believe it qualifies as a non-sequitur.  How can a holiday be “fake” if there are some who actually mark the occasion and participate in its traditions?

If you don’t know anyone who celebrates Festivus, that makes two of us.  However, a Festivus pole composed of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon beer cans is about to be erected in the Florida State House alongside the menorah and crèche.  So you tell me who’s on first.

By the way, Festivus is celebrated on December 23 — coincidentally, also the date of National Pfeffernüsse Day.

Among those participating in Festivus are “secularists” seeking to call attention to their position that the U.S. Constitution requires a more complete separation between church and state.  Reports are that some atheists (I have recently started seeing the phrase “nontheists”) are adopting Festivus as an alternative to religious winter holidays.

Among the things I have learned is that the family of Dan O’Keefe, one of the writers of Seinfeld, had an alternative holiday tradition during his childhood, which he embellished for the show.  The rhyming tag line was “Festivus:  For the rest of us!”  The idea seems to be a parody of religious holiday traditions with particular emphasis on rebellion against the commercialism to which Christmas has succumbed.

The symbol of Festivus is a plain, unadorned aluminum pole, which appears to be an alternative to the candelabra of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa and the Christmas tree.  In the Seinfeld episode, Frank Costanza says he “finds tinsel distracting.”  The starkness of the pole fits in with the theme of objecting to commercialism.

O’Keefe states that the family Festivus celebration of his youth also included “a clock in a bag,” the significance of which he cannot recall.

The “Festivus miracles” pointed out at the holiday dinner, a parody of the miracles in the Hanukkah and Christmas stories, can be any coincidental or everyday occurrence upon which one of those in attendance chooses to remark.

Festivus events appearing in the Seinfeld episode include “feats of strength” and the “airing of grievances.”  The former involves the head of household challenging a guest at the Festivus dinner to a wrestling match.  The holiday celebration is not done until one of the guests successfully pins the head of household to the floor.  As for the “airing of grievances,” those gathered are supposed to gripe about the specifics of each other’s conduct that has disappointed and annoyed them during the course of the year.

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