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What does Festivus mean?

Festivus is the name of a secular and non-commercial holiday characterized by the raising of an aluminum pole, the serving of a dinner, the airing of grievances, and the demonstration of feats of strength.

image of Festivus

Where does Festivus come from?

Festivus was popularized by the television show Seinfeld, which aired December 18, 1997. The episode follows the characters as they learn about and resurrect character Frank Costanza’s tradition of Festivus.

The holiday is based on a real tradition celebrated by the family of one of Seinfeld’s writers, Daniel O’Keefe, according to a 2004 article in the New York Times. Invented by Daniel O’Keefe’s father Dan, this holiday dates back to 1966. The first Festivus was a celebration of when Dan first met his wife.

Festivus is characterized as being a holiday “for the rest of us,” and exists in contrast to the commercialism of Christmas. It consists of four major elements.

The first is the Festivus Pole, which is a simple aluminum pole with no adornments, meant to be as low-effort a decoration as possible.

The second is the Airing of Grievances. This is when you tell gathered friends and family members how they have disappointed you since the last Festivus celebration.

The third is the dinner. The famous Seinfeld episode appears to show the characters eating meatloaf on a bed of lettuce, mashed potatoes, and peas. However, alternate suggestions for the meal abound.

Finally, Festivus concludes with an event known as The Feats of Strength. This is an attempt to wrestle the head of the household to the ground.

A few things to note…

The holiday has been adopted beyond the O’Keefes and the Costanzas, and is now celebrated by a small but a global audience. There is a website detailing how to celebrate it, a book about the story behind it by the holiday’s creator, and social media pages for participants to share stories of their festivities. Festivus poles can also now be purchased specially for the occasion. However, Festivus traditionalists feel that a pole made for this purpose is against the anti-commercialist spirit of the holiday.

Other terminology related to the holiday includes the Festivus Miracle. This is a parody of the phrase a Christmas miracle. Usually, Festivus miracles are prosaic or underwhelming.

The Festivus Games are a real-world athletic competition aimed at all ability levels with the slogan “Feats of Strength for the Rest of Us” in reference to the Seinfeld episode.

For example…

“It almost seemed at times to be a Festivus, an airing of grievances by Donald Trump, the President of the United States.”

Meghan McCain, Outnumbered Fox News (February 17, 2017)

“Finally got the Festivus Pole up today. It's a Festivus miracle that I also got the portrait of Cosmo 'The Assman' Kramer finally framed!”

Mark Holder Facebook (December 20, 2016)

“When I share cord-striking links it becomes #festivus for people to air their #grievances on my links”

alexginnyc Instagram (March 19, 2017)

This is not a formal definition of Festivus like most terms we define on, but is rather an informal word summary that touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of Festivus that will help you expand your word mastery.