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
Getty Images

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'
Getty Images

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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10 Things You Didn't Know About the Fourth of July
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With 242 years of tradition behind it, the Fourth of July is one of America’s most cherished holidays. It's when we celebrate our nation's mythology with a day off, a backyard barbecue, and plenty of fireworks. But with all that history, you'd be forgiven if you didn't know quite everything about July 4. So from the true story behind the signing of the Declaration of Independence, to some staggering hot dog statistics, here are 10 things you might not know about the Fourth of July.

1. THE DECLARATION WASN'T SIGNED ON JULY 4 (OR IN JULY AT ALL).

John Trumball's 1819 painting "Declaration of Independence."
John Trumball's 1819 painting "Declaration of Independence."
John Trumbull [Public domain] // Wikimedia Commons

It might make for an iconic painting, but that famous image of all the Founding Fathers and Continental Congress huddled together, presenting the first draft of the Declaration of Independence for July 4, 1776 signing, isn't quite how things really went down. As famed historian David McCullough wrote, "No such scene, with all the delegates present, ever occurred at Philadelphia."

It's now generally accepted that the Declaration of Independence wasn't signed on the Fourth of July—that's just the day the document was formally dated, finalized, and adopted by the Continental Congress, which had officially voted for independence on July 2 (the day John Adams thought we should celebrate). Early printed copies of the Declaration were signed by John Hancock and secretary Charles Thomson to be given to military officers and various political committees, but the bulk of the other 54 men signed an official engrossed (finalized and in larger print) copy on August 2, with others to follow at a later date. Hancock (boldly) signed his name again on the updated version.

So if you want to sound like a history buff at your family's barbecue this year, point out that we're celebrating the adoption of the Declaration, not the signing of it.

2. THE FIRST CELEBRATIONS WEREN'T MUCH DIFFERENT THAN TODAY'S.

After years of pent-up frustration, the colonies let loose upon hearing the words of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Military personnel and civilians in the Bowling Green section of Manhattan tore down a statue of King George III and later melted it into bullets; the King’s coat of arms was used as kindling for a bonfire in Philadelphia; and in Savannah, Georgia, the citizens burnt the King in effigy and held a mock funeral for their royal foe.

Independence Day celebrations began to look a bit more familiar the following year, as the July 18, 1777 issue of the Virginia Gazette describes the July 4 celebration in Philadelphia:

"The evening was closed with the ringing of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated. Every thing was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal."

There were even ships decked out in patriotic colors lining harbors and streamers littering city streets. Once you get past the mock funerals and rioting of 1776, modern Independence Day celebrations have stuck pretty close to the traditions started in 1777.

3. EATING SALMON ON THE FOURTH IS A TRADITION IN NEW ENGLAND.

The tradition of eating salmon on the Fourth of July began in New England as kind of a coincidence. It just so happened that during the middle of the summer, salmon was in abundance in rivers throughout the region, so it was a common sight on tables at the time. It eventually got lumped in to the Fourth and has stayed that way ever since, even with the decline of Atlantic salmon.

To serve salmon the traditional New England way, you'll have to pair it with some green peas. And if you're really striving for 18th-century authenticity, enjoy the whole meal with some turtle soup, like John and Abigail Adams supposedly did on the first Fourth of July. (You can still be a patriot without the soup, though.)

4. MASSACHUSETTS WAS THE FIRST STATE TO RECOGNIZE THE HOLIDAY.

Massachusetts recognized the Fourth of July as an official holiday on July 3, 1781, making it the first state to do so. It wasn't until June 28, 1870 that Congress decided to start designating federal holidays [PDF], with the first four being New Year's Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. This decreed that those days were holidays for federal employees.

However, there was a distinction. The Fourth was a holiday "within the District of Columbia" only. It would take years of new legislation to expand the holiday to all federal employees.

5. THE OLDEST ANNUAL FOURTH OF JULY CELEBRATION IS HELD IN BRISTOL, RHODE ISLAND.

Eighty-five years before the Fourth of July was even recognized as a federal holiday, one tradition began that continues to this day. Billed as "America's Oldest Fourth of July Celebration," the town of Bristol, Rhode Island, has been doing Independence Day right since 1785.

The festivities began just two years after the Revolutionary War ended, and 2017 will be its 232nd entry. Over the years the whole thing has expanded well beyond July 4; the town of 23,000 residents now begins to celebrate the United States on Flag Day, June 14, all the way through to the 2.5-mile July 4 parade. What began as a "patriotic exercise"—meaning church services—has morphed into a cavalcade of parades, live music, food, and other activities.

6. AND THE SHORTEST PARADE IS IN APTOS, CALIFORNIA.

From the oldest to the shortest, the Fourth of July parade in Aptos, California, is just a hair over half a mile long. Taking up two city blocks, and measuring just .6 miles, this brief bit of patriotism features antique cars, decorated trucks, and plenty of walkers. Afterward, there's a Party in the Park, where folks can enjoy live music, food, and games.

7. THERE ARE AROUND 15,000 INDEPENDENCE DAY FIREWORKS CELEBRATIONS EVERY YEAR.

Fireworks burst over New York City.
JEWEL SAMAD / AFP / Getty Images

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, around 15,000 fireworks displays will take place for the Fourth of July holiday (even if some aren't exactly on July 4). Though pricing varies, most small towns spend anywhere from $8000-$15,000 for a fireworks display, with larger cities going into the millions, like the Boston Pops Fireworks Spectacular at around $2.5 million.

8. WE'LL EAT AN OBSCENE AMOUNT OF HOT DOGS.

Around 150 million, to be more specific—that's how many hot dogs will be consumed by Americans on the Fourth of July. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, that amount of dogs can stretch from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles more than five times.

In 2016, 70 of those dogs were scarfed down by Joey Chestnut, who won the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Competition for the ninth time.

9. AND WE'LL SPEND BILLIONS ON FOOD.

Americans will spend big on food and drinks this Fourth. Big to the tune of around $7.1 billion when all is said and done, according to the National Retail Federation. This includes food and other cookout expenses, averaging out to about $73 per person participating in a barbecue, outdoor cookout or picnic.

Then comes the booze. The Beer Institute estimates that Americans will spend around $1 billion on beer for their Fourth celebrations, and more than $450 million on wine.

10. THREE PRESIDENTS HAVE DIED, AND ONE WAS BORN, ON THE FOURTH.

You probably know that both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on July 4, 1826—50 years to the day after the Declaration of Independence was adopted. They're not the only presidents to have died on the Fourth, though; James Monroe—the nation’s fifth president—died just a few years later on July 4, 1831.

Though the holiday might seem like it has it out for former presidents, there was one future leader born on Independence Day. The country's 30th Commander-in-Chief, Calvin Coolidge, was born on July 4, 1872.

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These Digital Fireworks Displays Can Help You Celebrate July 4 Wherever You Live
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Every Fourth of July needs to be capped off with a dazzling fireworks display, but depending on where you live, getting to one isn’t always easy. Many states have strict laws around which fireworks you can and can’t use on your own, and if there’s no public show in your town, you may be totally out of luck.

If you’re still craving a show, though, AtmosFX’s digital fireworks displays may be your best bet. These digital, animated fireworks shows can be downloaded from the company’s site where you can then either display them on your TV or project them onto surfaces around your home or backyard. The video options available allow for some customization, so you can either stick with a generic fireworks display or choose some patriotic colors along with a "Happy Fourth of July" message.

The company’s various digital fireworks videos come in at a 1080p HD resolution with sound effects that can be adjusted and customized—which is the perfect alternative to those decibel-busting fireworks displays designed to frighten your beloved pets. Some videos are meant to be displayed on TVs and monitors, while others are for wall projections and window displays. You can buy these à la carte for $6.99 each, or together in a package for $20.

Whether you live in an apartment, a state that prohibits fireworks, or are expecting some wet weather for your Independence Day party, look into a digital alternative by heading to the AtmosFX website.

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