Why I'm Celebrating Festivus This Year
I've heard Michael Bublé croon "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" countless times over the past few months; but despite the best efforts of all the Christmas music I've heard, I'm not feeling the holiday spirit. I drive through the woodsy backroads to my boyfriend's house, expecting to see some sign of snow or at least a wintery chill; instead, it looks and feels more like early March, when the trees are resisting signs of spring. But even if the weather on the East coast was willing to cooperate and give us some snow on Christmas day (instead of the forecasted rain and an unusual high of 64 degrees), I doubt I'd feel differently.
Maybe you feel the same —like the weight of the past year hangs over you, preventing you from feeling especially merry. Whether you're haunted by the acts of domestic terrorism that occurred here in the United States or in France; the forced exile of thousands of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, few of whom have been permitted to resettle in the U.S.; or the fact that, according to the Guardian (UK)'s The Counted project, there have been over 1,100 people killed by U.S. police in 2015, the past year has given many of us little reason to feel cheerful. Just last night, as I prepared to write this, the news of a grand jury's ruling not to indict anyone in the case of Sandra Bland came down, and any possibility of 2015 being a good year for me faded away yet again.
You may also be finding it difficult to find meaning in a year like 2015, which is why it's so tempting to just sit back and let the end of December go on unnoticed. Abandoning any pretense of celebrating any holiday may be too difficult—after all, the holidays come with all sort of family obligations that may not allow for completely bypassing the day. But completely ignoring the holidays or playing along for the sake of friends and family aren't your only options. I'll still be celebrating Christmas, mostly out of obligation, but today, December 23, I'll be celebrating Festivus.
Festivus, of course, is the fictional holiday at the center of "The Strike," an episode from the final season of Seinfeld that manages to pack in a number of memorable plot lines — from Elaine's fake phone number to Kramer's years long strike from a bagel store — but is most remembered for Frank Costanza's revival of the family's at-times painful tradition of Festivus.
Touted as "a Festivus for the rest of us," the Costanza family tradition sprang from Frank's very real—and relatable—frustration with the holiday season. After fight at a store over a doll devolves into physical blows, Costanza realizes that he's given in to the extreme commercialism of the season. In reaction, he creates Festivus, an alternative holiday celebration that falls two days before Christmas. Festivus celebrations involve aluminum poles, feats of strength, and most famously, the airing of grievances. But it's not simply a creation of the fictional Costanza; Festivus has roots in the real world.
Seinfeld writer Daniel O'Keefe borrowed from his own life when working on "The Strike. "O'Keefe's father, a writer and editor also named Daniel O'Keefe, created the holiday in 1966, influenced by research he conducted while writing his book, Stolen Lightning — "a work of sociology that explores the ways people use cults, astrology and the paranormal as a defense against social pressures," according the New York Times . And while Festivus doesn't necessarily qualify as mystical, it has certainly evolved into a reaction against societal norms and expectations.
To celebrate Festivus is to reject the commercial pressures of the holiday season: it is to forgo a tree and the compulsory Christmas spirit of good will. It is also the opposite of emotional Christmas traditions, like extending the benefit of the doubt and laying aside any ill feelings or grudges. Rather, it's about embracing the messiness of the holidays and all the family entanglements and difficulties that come with this time of year. Festivus presents a case for radical honesty. If someone's hurt your feelings, tell them; if work has been stressful, and you need to talk about it, vent away.
Because it doesn't ask us to smile through the stress and pressure of being around family (like traditional holiday celebrations do), Festivus is like a release valve. By getting things out— expressing discomfort, anger, frustration — it can actually relieve the pressures of this time of year.
Am I advocating to go home and scream at your family members for the ways you feel they've failed you? Not for a moment. But, I would argue, the spirit of Festivus is one of openness. If someone has upset us, instead of hiding our feelings, perhaps it's time to embrace an honest approach. It doesn't mean you have to use the Costanza tactic of screaming over the dining room table. Festivus can be a time for quietly approaching someone and explaining how you really feel. It can also be a time of cutting ties in unhealthy relationships, or at the very least, setting boundaries for your own sanity.
It's also an opportunity to acknowledge our wider frustrations with the world. The airing of grievances doesn't have to be personal. Whereas Christmas is about looking for the best despite the darkness of our times, Festivus is about recognizing the darkness and calling it for what it is.
However you choose to approach the coming week, whether it's through actually celebrating Festivus or staying the course with Christmas, it's important to remember that however you're feeling, whether stressed and frustrated, or filled with the holiday spirit, either is okay. And if you choose to recognize Festivus, a merry airing of grievances to you.
But let's all agree to skip the feats of strength.
Images: NBC; Giphy (3)