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Festivus For The Rest of Us!:

Seems like there’s just too much “holiday season” these days, what with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, and the Winter Solstice. But any list of winter holidays ought to include a day which is rapidly gaining popularity as a healthy, non-commercial alternative—Festivus!

Festivus is a non-denominational holiday celebrated on December 23. It became known through an episode of the popular TV series Seinfeld, in which the characters learn that George’s family celebrates Festivus, a holiday created by his father in protest against the commercialization of Christmas.

In real life, Festivus was first celebrated by the family of Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe. According to the web site festivusweb.com, O’Keefe’s father was inspired back in 1966 by a book about obscure holidays. The O’Keefe’s original holiday was a moveable feast (the first family celebration occurred in February) and featured such rituals as a clock in a bag, an annual theme such as “Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?” the “airing of grievances” into a tape recorder, and wrestling matches between the three O’Keefe sons.

O’Keefe retained some of his family’s traditions for the Seinfeld Festivus, such as Airing of Grievances, in which family members talk of how they were disappointed by other family members, and Feats of Strength (usually featuring the father arm-wrestling with other family members). A new addition was the Festivus Pole, an unadorned aluminum pole that stands in for a Christmas tree (no tinsel–George’s father, the bombastic Frank Costanza, found tinsel “distracting”).

The Internet abounds with sites dedicated to Festivus. The Wagner Company in Milwaukee sells six-foot poles for $38 and according to a 2006 AP article, sold 300 poles during that year’s holiday season. Author Allan Salkin sells his book Festivus: A Holiday for the Rest of Us at festivusbook.com. FestivusWine.com offers “a wine to toast grievances by and a wine to embolden your most audacious feats of strength.”

Festivus enthusiasts hold parties everywhere and have in some cases petitioned city leaders to include Festivus in public holiday displays. After all, how much can it cost a city to put up an aluminum pole and the words “Happy Festivus?”

Currently there are no public Festivus displays in Santa Monica. According to Rachel Waugh, City of Santa Monica Publications Director, the City has not received any actual complaints from Festivus-celebrators about the lack of unadorned poles at public sites. But she laughingly admits that people have occasionally mentioned Festivus and that after the publication of this article, the City may be getting more requests that they honor what Waugh terms “a sort of austere celebration.”

Less austerely, the V Lounge in Santa Monica is throwing a big 1980s- themed Festivus party on December 10 (see Goldstar.com or BrownPaperTickets.com for tickets and info).

So why not make a change this year and get a pole, cook some humdrum family favorites, invite those relatives you’ve been yearning to tell off for years, get your arms ready for wrestling, and celebrate! A Festivus for the Rest of Us!

Contact Lynne Bronstein, lynne@smmirror.com

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