If you don't watch a lot of Seinfeld, this holiday season may have been the first time you heard of Festivus, the secular holiday popularized by the famous sitcom back in 1997. On Dec. 23, a fake meme of Tomi Lahren claiming Obama invented Festivus went viral and even got a rise out of the conservative commentator herself. So, if you're left wondering what exactly Festivus is in the first place, look no further.
First things first: Obama did not invent it. The viral meme, which features Lahren on Fox News with a banner reading, "Tomi: Obama created Festivus to destroy Christmas," was clearly Photoshopped.
“You idiots think this is real? Have you nothing better to do than photoshop fake news?" Lahren tweeted in response.
But aside from the meme, Festivus was never really meant to be much of a political statement. Though it rejects rampant consumerism in America during the holidays, it does so in a playful way. After all, it was introduced in a sitcom.
The alternative holiday, according to Seinfeld, is celebrated on Dec. 23 and features an aluminum pole (because of its "very high strength-to-weight ratio") with no decorations, as well as the Airing of Grievances at the dinner table. "I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you're going to hear about it!" one of the show's characters proclaims. Next comes the Feats of Strength, during which the head of the household challenges a guest to a wrestling match. The holiday isn't officially over until he or she gets pinned down by the guest. You can imagine how chaotically that tradition played out in the sitcom.
Though Seinfeld helped popularize Festivus, the holiday was actually invented decades prior. The father of Seinfeld writer Dan O'Keefe created the holiday in the 1960s and the family has been celebrating it since. O'Keefe's father first celebrated it in February 1966 to mark the anniversary of his first date with his wife, Deborah. And contrary to what that Seinfeld episode suggests, Festivus can be celebrated any day of the year, not just on Dec. 23.
The family's original version of Festivus may not have included an aluminum pole, but O'Keefe insisted to the New York Times that "it was entirely more peculiar than on the show." For example, part of the family's tradition was to put a clock in a bag and nail it to the wall. O'Keefe admitted to the Times he's still unsure why that's significant to the holiday. "Most of the Festivi had a theme," O'Keefe told the Times. "One was, 'Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?' Another was, 'Too easily made glad?'"
Additionally, the show and actual family tradition had one important component in common: the phrase "a Festivus for the rest of us." In 2009, O'Keefe participated in a Q&A session with the Washington Post to explain what it means.
"A Festivus for the Rest of Us" was an actual family Festivus motto, referring initially to those remaining after the death of my father's mother, and then coming to mean in general a forward-looking focus on life and the living, i.e. "Let the dead bury the dead."
It's almost as if Festivus parodies what defines American tradition. If you thought it seemed self-aware, you're definitely not wrong. O'Keefe's father actually authored a book titled Stolen Lightning: The Social Theory of Magic that explored the role of magic in different societies. It could be argued, then, that he was very aware of the importance of obscure tradition in American society.
Since the Seinfeld episode "The Strike" aired back in the late '90s, Festivus has become a full-blown holiday celebrated around the country. Though it's evolved to mean different things to different people, now you know how all of its strange traditions initially came to fruition.