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The Master Shake Signal, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
The Master Shake Signal, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

10 Grievance-Worthy Facts About Festivus

The Master Shake Signal, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
The Master Shake Signal, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Tired of having holiday sales shoved down your throat and Christmas carols stuck in your head? Maybe it’s time you considered celebrating Festivus instead. What started out as a single-episode joke on Seinfeld back in 1997 has morphed into a worldwide cultural phenomenon. Here’s everything you need to know about the holiday “for the rest of us.”

1. IT TAKES PLACE ON DECEMBER 23.

A calendar shows December 23
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First, some Festivus basics: the holiday (or anti-holiday) is celebrated each year on December 23. As it’s essentially a day to rail against the consumerism that infiltrates the holiday season, it’s much more bare-bones than the name might suggest. The traditional symbol, at least as Seinfeld told it, is an aluminum pole. Among the annual traditions are the “Airing of Grievances,” in which you detail the many ways that people annoy you, and the “Feats of Strength,” which really just amounts to a living room wrestling match. Easily explainable events that happen to occur on this day are usually known as “Festivus miracles.”

2. IT ORIGINATED MUCH EARLIER THAN SEINFELD.

The cast of Seinfeld
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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.”

3. YOU CAN PURCHASE A FESTIVUS POLE.

A photo of aluminum poles
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Don’t have an ugly aluminum pole just lying around? You can buy one! In fact, for less than $13 you can purchase an entire mini-Festivus celebration kit from Running Press. In addition to a 9-inch pole that plays sound bytes of Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller), it includes two magnets and five donation cards for the Human Fund (George's made-up charity).

4. THERE IS A SOCIOLOGICAL BACKGROUND TO THE WHOLE THING.

A still from 'Seinfeld'
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O’Keefe’s father, Dan Sr., explained to The New York Times that he created Festivus in 1966 (before any of his kids were born) to commemorate the anniversary of his first date with his wife, Deborah. In the 1970s, Festivus began to take on new meaning and rituals as the elder O’Keefe was doing research for his 1983 book Stolen Lightning, a sociological exploration of how astrology, cults, and the paranormal act as a kind of defense against societal pressures. "In the background was [Émile] Durkheim's Elementary Forms of Religious Life, saying that religion is the unconscious projection of the group," O'Keefe explained. "And then the American philosopher Josiah Royce: religion is the worship of the beloved community." (See? Festivus is not just about beating the crap out of your brother.)

5. IN 2013, FLORIDA OFFICIALLY RECOGNIZED FESTIVUS.

 Chaz Stevens from Deerfield Beach, Florida assembles his Festivus pole out of beer cans in the rotunda of the Florida Capitol as the media looks on December 11, 2013 in Tallahassee, Florida
Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

In 2013, Chaz Stevens, a resident of Deerfield Beach, Florida, petitioned the Florida Capitol building in Tallahassee to let him erect a Festivus pole to sit alongside the building’s Christmas tree and nativity scene. Amazingly, they agreed.

“As long as it meets [the] guidelines and there is space available in the capitol, DMS is happy to allow all cultures, and denominations, and committees, and groups to put up their holiday displays,” Ben Wolf, a spokesperson for Florida’s Department of Management Services (DMS)—the department responsible for the approval—told the News Service of Florida at the time.

Rather than stick up a standard aluminum pole, Stevens chose to build his ode to Festivus out of empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans. “I still chuckle,” he said. “I literally can’t believe there will be a pile of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans in the state rotunda.”

6. THERE HAS BEEN SOME OUTRAGE OVER PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF FESTIVUS.

Gretchen Carlson
Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for TIME

The same year that Stevens built his PBR pole, the Wisconsin Capitol added a Festivus display of its own. Not everyone was amused. Former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson aired her own grievance with Stevens's display at the time, saying, “I am so outraged by this. Why do I have to drive around with my kids to look for nativity scenes and be like, ‘Oh, yeah, kids, look. There’s Baby Jesus behind the Festivus pole made out of beer cans!'"

For his part, O'Keefe told Mother Jones that, “Both displays have equal right to be there. But, you know, the Fox News outrage machine kicked into high gear, and I’m sure there were some hair-sprayed talking heads bobbing up and down, being outraged about it.”

7. SENATOR RAND PAUL IS A FESTIVUS DEVOTEE.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

For the past few years, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has pledged his allegiance to Festivus by regularly airing his grievances to his 1.86 million Twitter followers. Earlier this month, he made it clear that he was already preparing this year's list of gripes.

But Paul is far from the only one who regularly uses the social media tool as a way to grumble about the world. Log on to Twitter, search the #AiringOfGrievances hashtag, and you’ll find all sorts of complaints being lodged with the general public.

8. DAN O'KEEFE 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."

9. A TRUE FESTIVUS FEAST CONSISTS OF MEAT. LOTS AND LOTS OF MEAT.

Meatloaf right out of the oven
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Because of the dearth of HD screens back in 1997, when the Festivus episode of Seinfeld first ran, viewers had trouble making out what the traditional meal served that night was. With improved technology and repeated viewings, the majority of fans agree that it is meatloaf served on a bed of lettuce. In the O'Keefe household, the meal was usually a main course of meat—which might include turkey, ham, beef stew, or lamb chops—and pecan pie for dessert. 

10. THERE'S AN OFFICIAL BOOK TO HELP YOU CELEBRATE FESTIVUS IN THE MOST AUTHENTIC WAY POSSIBLE.

Photo of a clock in a shopping bag
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Tired of trying to separate Festivus fact from fiction? Dan O'Keefe can help. In 2005 he wrote a book, The Real Festivus: The True Story Behind America's Favorite Made-Up Holiday, in which he shares personal anecdotes from growing up Festivus so that fans of the fake holiday can find out how it really all went down. We already mentioned that there was no aluminum pole (that idea came out of the Seinfeld writers room). But they did have a traditional decoration: "The central symbol of this holiday was not a pole," according to O'Keefe. "It was a clock and a bag. Sometimes a clock in a bag. But not always."

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music
Everything You Need to Know About Record Store Day
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The unlikely resurgence of vinyl as an alternative to digital music formats is made up of more than just a small subculture of purists. Today, more than 1400 independent record stores deal in both vintage and current releases. Those store owners and community supporters created Record Store Day in 2007 as a way of celebrating the grassroots movement that’s allowed a once-dying medium to thrive.

To commemorate this year’s Record Store Day on Saturday, April 21, a number of stores (a searchable list can be found here) will be offering promotional items, live music, signings, and more. While events vary widely by store, a number of artists will be issuing exclusive LPs that will be distributed around the country.

For Grateful Dead fans, a live recording of a February 27, 1969 show at Fillmore West in San Francisco will be released and limited to 6700 copies; Arcade Fire’s 2003 EP album will see a vinyl release for the first time, limited to 3000 copies; "Roxanne," the Police single celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, will see a 7-inch single release with the original jacket art.

The day also promises to be a big one for David Bowie fans. A special white vinyl version of 1977’s Bowie Now will be on shelves, along with Welcome to the Blackout (Live London ’78), a previously-unreleased, three-record set. Jimmy Page, Frank Zappa, Neil Young, and dozens of other artists will also be contributing releases.

No store is likely to carry everything you might want, so before making the stop, it might be best to call ahead and then plan on getting there early. If you’re one of the unlucky vinyl supporters without a brick and mortar store nearby, you can check out Discogs.com, which will be selling the special releases online.

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Big Questions
What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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