WHEN IT COMES TO THE SEASON OF GIVING, Festivus — today, December 23rd — is one celebration that’s continually overlooked or laughed-off as a joke. It dates back to a 1997 episode of Seinfeld, in which we learn that George Costanza’s father Frank crafted the holiday as an alternative to the over-commercialized options of Christmas and Hanukkah. It’s a simple and unique celebration, featuring a Festivus Pole, a meal of comfort food, and no gifts.
Despite its reputation as an enduring joke, Festivus is actually the perfect holiday to celebrate with your friends, especially if your tribe is of a diverse mix. Here’s why.
1. It’s Non-Religious
This is not to say that religious holidays are bad in any way. And you should absolutely invite friends who celebrate other holidays to your own wintry celebration. However, I don’t think it’s a stretch to see how being invited to festivities for a holiday they do not celebrate — and may have never celebrated — could make individuals uncomfortable or anxious. The holidays are full of ritual that lifelong celebrators take for granted, but that may confuse others to the point of intimidation.
Festivus is also the perfect way to include your Muslim friends in the holiday festivities. Plenty of people cite Ramadan as a winter holiday, alongside Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas. But, because it falls according to a lunar calendar, Ramadan begins 11 days earlier each year; in 2015, it fell in the middle of the summer. So, while there will probably be an Islamic holiday in any given winter, it probably won’t be Ramadan, and it may not even be a big, festive affair.
2. It Probably Won’t Offend Anyone
Some Festivus celebrators make their Festivus Poles out of empty Bud Light cans. This is entirely optional, considering that Frank Constanza’s original Festivus symbol was a solid, bare, aluminum pole — which you can purchase online. If you want to make your Festivus Pole, you have nearly-limitless options. Bud Light cans are a valid choice, but please be sure that none of your friends have problems with drinking before you use them.
Similarly, when it comes time for Feats of Strength, consider your guests’ abilities. Traditionally, Festivus doesn’t end until the host has been pinned to the ground. If you’re a huge bodybuilder, however, you might want to change the challenge to something more doable. Similarly, if any your guests has a physical disability, you should choose a Feat of Strength in which they can participate evenly with the rest of the group. No one should be left out at the holidays, folks. That’s the whole point of Festivus.
3. There’s No Cultural Appropriation Involved
Some hipsters have a habit of throwing alternative holiday celebrations, usually Hanukkah or Kwanzaa, but perhaps even some ungodly mish-mash of all three major winter festivals. This generally means dicing up the holidays into easily-digestible parts, as if there is no connective tissue between the pieces, and as if the bits are not inextricably rooted in tradition. What results is a garish and ill-considered festival of cultural appropriation.
With Festivus, this isn’t a problem. Its traditions extend back only 20 years or so, and they’re not carved in stone. Don’t eat meatloaf? Make something else! There’s no symbolism in meatloaf; it’s just comfort food.
4. One Person Can Do All the Cooking
Anyone who has ever wound up with three green bean casseroles and no pie can relate to the who’s-bringing-what stress of holiday dining. With Festivus, there are no birds to stuff, and you don’t have to make a dozen side-dishes, which means there’s little-to-no coordination between guests and hosts. One person can do all the cooking for Festivus, and without spending a day and a night sweating in the kitchen.
Keep in mind, however: just because one person can do all the cooking doesn’t mean one person should. It’s reasonable to ask guests to bring small items, such as drinks, ice, or a dessert. And, if you’re invited to a Festivus get-together, bring drinks, ice, or a dessert — even if you aren’t asked.
5. You Can Air Your Grievances
This is my favorite part of Festivus. Unlike the other holidays, which are largely about putting aside your differences for the sake of family, the holiday for the rest of us allows celebrators to air their grievances. It’s obviously important that you prevent your Festivus celebration from devolving into a shouting match with lots of hurt feelings, but a good-natured roasting of your closest friends will help you ring in the new year with cleared air.
6. It’s Practically Commercialization-Free
Frank Constanza’s entire purpose for Festivus is the creation of a commercialization-free holiday. There are no expensive gifts to buy — although fake or gag gifts are always in good fun — and there’s no rush or reason to out-decorate your neighbors. Festivus takes the holidays back to what they should be about: family, friends, and food.