Yes, there’s Christmas, with its decorated pine tree and jolly fat man; Hanukkah with its candelabra, latkes and eight-day gift-a-thon; Kwanzaa with its kaftans and large feasts… Then there’s the holiday for the rest of us! Devised by writer Dan O’Keefe for a 1997 Seinfeld episode, Festivus is Frank Costanza’s (George’s dad’s) bold, strange idea for an alternative to Christmas. Inspired by O’Keefe’s own weird family tradition, in the years since Festivus made its big TV debut, its gained popularity, with some people even celebrating it in earnest.
Here’s how it works, briefly. You start by setting up an unadorned metal pole in the middle of the room (Frank Costanza didn’t want to decorate the pole because he “found tinsel distracting”). Then, you have your various “practices”: there’s the Festivus dinner, which appears to consist of mainly meatloaf; there’s the “airing of grievances”, where everyone goes around and talks about how the present company has disappointed them over the past year; and the “feats of strength” practice, where observers challenge each other to a wrestling match, and other tests of might. In short, it’s a weird holiday.
Throwing an epic Festivus party in Chicago isn’t easy, but it sure is fun. Here’s a guide for how to honor Frank Costanza’s bold vision, updated for the 21st Century. First of all, you’ll need an aluminum pole, but since this is a Festivus that you’ll be taking on the road, trying using an aluminum hockey stick (propped up, if need be, by a Christmas tree base). Finding something portable will be important for the upcoming steps, which will require that you get your friends together for an axe throwing party to test your strength, as well as hit the pub for an airing of grievances.
But before that can take place, you need to eat the customary Festivus dinner. As you can see in the clip posted above, it appears there are only two things on the table for Festivus: a meatloaf and some green stuff. For meatloaf, you have options. Ditka’s, near Magnificent Mile makes a USDA prime meatloaf plate that Frank Costanza may or may not approve of, or Floyd’s Pub in Bucktown, which might be more Frank’s speed. As for the green stuff… that’s all up to you.
Next, you’ll move on to the airing of grievances. Best to do this over post-meatloaf drinks, or at the dinner table – just don’t get too heated. Try and gently remind your friends of all the ways they’ve disappointed you, but keep it in good spirits, because you still have to save up energy for the feats of strength. Because, realistically, you’re not going to wrestle in public (hope not), head to BATL (Backyard Axe Throwing League) to test your strength by throwing heavy metal blades at a target – no one gets hurt, but someone still emerges victorious.
Regardless of background or creed, Festivus is an opportunity to come together with friends, eat meatloaf, get your grievances out, throw axes to test strength and honour the wishes of a sitcom character from 20 years ago. And isn’t that what the holidays are all about?