If you search for “festivus” in Google, there will be a special treat: an unadorned aluminum pole is standing upright to the left of the search results, wishing everyone a happy Festivus. Also, the words “A Festivus miracle” appear where Google displays how many results were returned in how much time. Festivus is the secular, anti-consumerist holiday traditionally held on the 23rd of December. It is an important piece of esoterica in modern Western culture.
Festivus was invented by Frank Costanza as a reaction to the commercialization of Christmas. Before the Festivus meal, those gathered must participate in the “Airing of Grievances,” in which they must criticize everyone else and inform them of all the ways they have been disappointments over the last year. It’s a bit like a backwards Thanksgiving. Alcohol was not consumed during the original Festivus celebrations, but modern adherents of the tradtion often imbibe. A “Festivus Miracle” is sometimes said to occur whenever something needlessly unpleasant happens.
After the meal (it doesn’t seem to matter what the meal consists of) comes “Feats of Strength.” These are a series of physical competitions that culminate in wrestling. The head of the household (eg, Frank Costanza) must be pinned in to the floor–only then does Festivus officially end. The common interpretation of this rule is that if the head of the household is not pinned, Festivus continues indefinitely.
And perhaps most important of all is the artifact that Google makes reference to, the simple metal pole used in lieu of a Christmas Tree or Menora. The Festivus Pole reflects the austerity of the event, an event which does not include gift-giving, religious ceremony, or even an enjoyable experience to be shared with loved ones. Governor of Wisconsin Jim Doyle once displayed a ceremonial Festivus Pole in the Executive Residence in Madison, and it is now part of the Wisconsin Historical Museum.
Frank Costanza is a character on Seinfeld, the indelible 90s sitcom. The original concept for Festivus came from writer Dan O’Keefe, whose family celebrated the holiday since the late 60s. The phrase “Festivus for the rest of us” also came from these early family gatherings. O’Keefe incorporated the idea into the Seinfeld episode, “The Strike”, which aired on 18 December 1997.
Frank Costanza, played by Jerry Stiller, explains the humble origin of the canonized Festivus:
“Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached 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. [The doll] was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born… a Festivus for the rest of us!”
This kind of holiday shopping violence is seen all too often across the country. The retail frenzy known as Black Friday has seen shootings and stabbings this year, and protests at a number of Walmarts have turned violent. With such tawdry commercialization of a supposedly religious holiday, it should come as no surprise that Festivus is dear to the hearts of so many.
But why does Google seem to endorse Festivus? Google has many of its own smartphones, tablets, and computers flying off the shelves this holiday season. Google wishing everyone a happy Festivus is probably just a simple joke and not part of any secret Machiavellian agenda to throw off holiday shopping behavior or plot the overthrow of Christianity.
By K. Elsner