Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Festivus – A Family Tradition

 

I didn’t know until today that Festivus, celebrated Saturday, Dec. 23, wasn’t just made up for the TV show “Seinfeld,” but was an honest-to-goodness family tradition of one of the show’s writers, a tradition the other writers had to talk him into using in a television script.

According to O’Keefe family legend, the first Festivus occurred in 1966 to commemorate when Daniel Lawrence O’Keefe, the father of the Seinfeld writer (also named Daniel), took Deborah, the woman who would soon be his wife and mother of his children, out on their first date. Rather than busting out a Festivus pole (which was invented for the Seinfeld script), the O’Keefe family’s yearly celebration involved nailing a bagged clock to the wall – a ritual whose purpose, O’Keefe Sr. darkly told his children, was “not for you to know!” – and wearing silly decorated hats, including a Viking hat with Play-Doh horns.

O’Keefe Sr. did intend Festivus to be a purely secular family holiday, devoid of religious (or political) implications. So Festivus always has had an element of conscious rebellion against tradition. He was an author who had developed his own theories about the sociology of ritual and what he called “magic”:

The symbolic action of magic differs from other action and speech in the use of rigid scripts. These are borrowed from the sacred dramas of religion, where they give a core of certainty to collective experience, and then are used by magic to help the individual speak, act and think. The most powerful symbols of all are those that are most fixed — the “categories” of human thought, which were forged in the sacred dramas. They provide logical operators enabling individual minds to work with spontaneity on collective representations. And both religion and magic remember better than science does that these categories were sacred creations which can be altered tomorrow to disintegrate the conventional frame of reference and produce miraculous effects.

He also took inspiration from Samuel Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape: the Airing of Grievances began as a time for family members to record on cassette whatever had been bugging them that year. The Feats of Strength began as the kind of horsing around you expect in a house full of sons.

Deliberately constructing a ritual to impose on one’s family, rather than yielding to inherited tradition, might smack of a fatuous sort of arrogance. But besides being a man of strong opinions, O’Keefe Sr. was also a husband and father, and whatever he might have been trying to prove sociologically by inventing Festivus, a holiday commemorating when you began to court your spouse, a courtship that led to the formation of the particular family you have, and not any other, is really rather sweet.

When Festivus comes to our political attention, it’s likely to be because Rand Paul is airing his yearly grievances on Twitter or because someone has petitioned to erect a public Festivus pole alongside public Christmas Trees or Nativities in order to protest religion in the public square – or to protest Trump. Seeing Festivus used as an anti-Christian or anti-Republican stunt isn’t likely to endear it to most of us. So it’s nice to learn of this other side to Festivus – as one family’s eccentric tradition, a humorous celebration of the particular families we have, in all their peculiarity and eccentricity, with no larger mystical point than families are families together.

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  1. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I doubt that Paul can manage holding it in long enough to have a Yearly Airing of Grievances. It would be all he could do to have bi-weekly airings.

    • #1
    • December 23, 2017, at 3:18 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  2. Manny Member

    This makes as much sense as atheist “church” gatherings on Sunday mornings. If you’re gathering together to celebrate, what the heck are you celebrating? The only reason he picked December 23rd is because of its proximity to Christmas. Therefore he’s celebrating Christmas, only not calling it Christmas. And atheists are supposed to be the logical ones…lol.

    • #2
    • December 23, 2017, at 5:52 PM PST
    • 1 like
  3. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Manny (View Comment):
    This makes as much sense as atheist “church” gatherings on Sunday mornings. If you’re gathering together to celebrate, what the heck are you celebrating? The only reason he picked December 23rd is because of its proximity to Christmas. Therefore he’s celebrating Christmas, only not calling it Christmas. And atheists are supposed to be the logical ones…lol.

    The O’Keefes’ Festivus originally occurred in February, apparently:

    [O’Keefe Sr], a former editor at Reader’s Digest, said the first Festivus took place in February 1966, before any of his children were born, as a celebration of the anniversary of his first date with his wife, Deborah. The word “Festivus” just popped into his head, he said from his home in Chappaqua, N.Y.

    I’ve wondered, too, what the point of my irreligious relatives celebrating religious holidays is, especially when family expectations that I spend time with them during a religious holiday made actual religious observation more difficult. And what I observed from watching my relatives is, trite as it sounds, simply being together as a family, maintaining those connections, has meaning.

    I find it a source of sadness to be in a situation where juggling family ties and religious ties requires extra-careful planning on my part – planning that quite frankly has often proved beyond my capacity to manage. But when I look at my irreligious relatives’ behavior, they’re acting as if these holiday visits are meaningful for them. If you asked them, they’d say they were meaningful. Questioning their judgment on that does not seem respectful: they are not children or madmen, whose judgment is either so unformed or so perverted as to have no value.

    • #3
    • December 23, 2017, at 6:24 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  4. Danny Alexander Member

    O’Keefe and several others on the Seinfeld writing team were undergrad classmates of mine and were all in the Harvard Lampoon — as humor publications go, it was what might be scientifically termed “consistently hit-or-miss” throughout the time that I received/collected their output as a student.

    Given that this group (totaling maybe 5 or so) managed to stay with the Seinfeld production staff all the way to its wrap-up (I don’t know how early on they may have joined after we graduated in June 1990), obviously their skills were valued by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. That said, my hunch is that Seinfeld and David taught these “Lampoon Mafia” wiseguys considerably more than the reverse — a few memorable plot devices such as Festivus notwithstanding.

    I say this because:

    a) Whenever any one of them has written an essay entry (personal update) in our class’s Reunion “redbook” (collected/published every five years), the material — clearly always and only submitted as humor — has persistently fallen flat (as Seth MacFarlane once said via his “Family Guy” alter-ego Peter Griffin, regarding “The Godfather,” “It insists upon itself”);

    b) They’ve had no notable contributions on either the big or small screens that I’m aware of, since 1998 (I’m happy to stand corrected if they’ve been contributors since then to Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” show, albeit that again might testify to their dependency issues).

    One additional “Lampoon Mafia” guy from the graduating year after us (1991), who served on the Seinfeld team, did manage to transition to an independent subsequent success as the co-creator (with his wife) of the comedy series “The League” (on FX?…).

    • #4
    • December 24, 2017, at 12:13 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  5. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    We have a God shaped hole in our spirits. Everyone works to fill it with something.

    • #5
    • December 25, 2017, at 5:36 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  6. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    I’m glad you commented, @dannyalexander – it’s amazing all the things Ricochetti know firsthand!

    Sometimes, answering to the right person can bring things out of you that just aren’t brought out otherwise. I’m glad Seinfeld and Larry David were able to bring it out of them.

    • #6
    • December 25, 2017, at 7:43 AM PST
    • 1 like
  7. Done Contributor

    Manny (View Comment):
    This makes as much sense as atheist “church” gatherings on Sunday mornings. If you’re gathering together to celebrate, what the heck are you celebrating? The only reason he picked December 23rd is because of its proximity to Christmas. Therefore he’s celebrating Christmas, only not calling it Christmas. And atheists are supposed to be the logical ones…lol.

    Christmas is already a secular holiday for most people.

    • #7
    • December 25, 2017, at 9:33 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Frank Soto (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):
    This makes as much sense as atheist “church” gatherings on Sunday mornings. If you’re gathering together to celebrate, what the heck are you celebrating? The only reason he picked December 23rd is because of its proximity to Christmas. Therefore he’s celebrating Christmas, only not calling it Christmas. And atheists are supposed to be the logical ones…lol.

    Christmas is already a secular holiday for most people.

    That it may be, but in a way that provides cover for many of us to take extra time and expend extra effort to observe its sanctity all the more.

    • #8
    • December 25, 2017, at 10:41 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  9. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’m not sure if this is a Festivus pole or a Christmas tree, but I spotted it on the beach the other day. Fun bit of seasonal whimsy here where palm trees predominate.

    • #9
    • December 25, 2017, at 10:42 AM PST
    • 2 likes

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