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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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Big Questions
What Happened to the Physical Copy of the 'I Have a Dream' Speech?
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On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave a speech for the ages, delivering the oratorical masterpiece "I Have a Dream" to nearly 250,000 people.

When he was done, King stepped away from the podium, folded his speech, and found himself standing in front of George Raveling, a former Villanova basketball player who, along with his friend Warren Wilson, had been asked to provide extra security around Dr. King while he was speaking. "We were both tall, gangly guys," Raveling told TIME in 2003. "We didn't know what we were doing but we certainly made for a good appearance."

Moved by the speech, Raveling saw the folded papers in King’s hands and asked if he could have them. King gave the young volunteer the speech without hesitation, and that was that.

“At no time do I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we got this historic document,’” Raveling told Sports Illustrated in 2015. Not realizing he was holding what would become an important piece of history in his hands, Raveling went home and stuck the three sheets of paper into a Harry Truman biography for safekeeping. They sat there for nearly two decades while Raveling developed an impressive career coaching NCAA men’s basketball.

In 1984, he had recently taken over as the head coach at the University of Iowa and was chatting with Bob Denney of the Cedar Rapids Gazette when Denney brought up the March on Washington. That's when Raveling dropped the bomb: “You know, I’ve got a copy of that speech," he said, and dug it out of the Truman book. After writing an article about Raveling's connection, the reporter had the speech professionally framed for the coach.

Though he displayed the framed speech in his house for a few years, Raveling began to realize the value of the piece and moved it to a bank vault in Los Angeles. Though he has received offers for King’s speech—one collector wanted to purchase the speech for $3 million in 2014—Raveling has turned them all down. He has been in talks with various museums and universities and hopes to put the speech on display in the future, but for now, he cherishes having it in his possession.

“That to me is something I’ll always be able to look back and say I was there,” Raveling said in the original Cedar Rapids Gazette article. “And not only out there in that arena of people, but to be within touching distance of him. That’s like when you’re 80 or 90 years old you can look back and say ‘I was in touching distance of Abraham Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Address.’"

“I have no idea why I even asked him for the speech,” Raveling, now CEO of Coaching for Success, has said. “But I’m sure glad that I did.”

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Live Smarter
3 Reasons Why Your New Year's Resolutions Fail—and How to Fix Them
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You don’t need a special day to come up with goals, but New Year’s Day is as good a time as any to build better habits. The problem is, by the time February rolls around, our best laid plans have often gone awry. Don’t let it happen this year: Heed these three simple tips for fail-proof resolutions.

PROBLEM 1: THEY’RE TOO OVERWHELMING

Let’s say your goal is to pay off $5000 worth of credit card debt this year. Since you're giving yourself a long timeframe (all year) to pay it down, you end up procrastinating or splurging, telling yourself you’ll make up for it later. But the longer you push it off, the bigger and more overwhelming your once-reasonable goal can feel.

Solution: Set Smaller Milestones

The big picture is important, but connecting your goal to the present makes it more digestible and easier to stick with. Instead of vowing to pay off $5000 by the end of next December, make it your resolution to put $96 toward your credit card debt every week, for example.

In a study from the University of Wollongong, researchers asked subjects to save using one of two methods: a linear model and a cyclical model. In the linear model, the researchers told subjects that saving for the future was important and asked them to set aside money accordingly. In contrast, they told the cyclical group:

This approach acknowledges that one’s life consists of many small and large cycles, that is, events that repeat themselves. We want you to think of the personal savings task as one part of such a cyclical life. Make your savings task a routinized one: just focus on saving the amount that you want to save now, not next month, not next year. Think about whether you saved enough money during your last paycheck cycle. If you saved as much as you wanted, continue with your persistence. If you did not save enough, make it up this time, with the current paycheck cycle.

When subjects used this cyclical model, focusing on the present, they saved more than subjects who focused on their long-term goal.

PROBLEM 2: THEY'RE TOO VAGUE

“Find a better job” is a worthy goal, but it's a bit amorphous. It's unclear what "better" means to you, and it’s difficult to plot the right course of action when you’re not sure what your desired outcome is. Many resolutions are vague in this way: get in shape, worry less, spend more time with loved ones.

Solution: Make Your Goal a SMART One

To make your goal actionable, it should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound. When you set specific parameters and guidelines for your goal, it makes it easier to come up with an action plan. Under a bit more scrutiny, "spend more time with loved ones" might become "invite my best friends over for dinner every other Sunday night." This new goal is specific, measurable, time-bound—it ticks all the boxes and tells you exactly what you want and how to get there.

PROBLEM 3: YOU FELL FOR THE “FALSE FIRST STEP”

“A false first step is when we try to buy a better version of ourselves instead of doing the actual work to accomplish it,” Anthony Ongaro of Break the Twitch tells Mental Floss. “The general idea is that purchasing something like a heart rate monitor can feel a lot like we're taking a step towards our fitness goals,” Ongaro says. “The purchase itself can give us a dopamine release and a feeling of satisfaction, but it hasn't actually accomplished anything other than spending some money on a new gadget.”

Even worse, sometimes that dopamine is enough to lure you away from your goal altogether, Ongaro says. “That feeling of satisfaction that comes with the purchase often is good enough that we don't feel the need to actually go out for a run and use it.”

Solution: Start With What You Already Have

You can avoid this trap by forcing yourself to start your goal with the resources you already have on hand. “Whether the goal is to learn a new language or improve physical fitness, the best way to get started and avoid the false first step is to do the best you can with what you already have,” Ongaro says. “Start really small, even learning one new word per day for 30 days straight, or just taking a quick walk around the block every day.”

This isn’t to say you should never buy anything related to your goal, though. As Ongaro points out, you just want to make sure you’ve already developed the habit a bit first. “Establish a habit and regular practice that will be enhanced by a product you may buy,” he says. “It's likely that you won't even need that gadget or that fancy language learning software once you actually get started ... Basically, don't let buying something be the first step you take towards meaningful change in your life.”

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