A festivus feast table with bagels, cakes, bread and more covering the surface. A sign poked in the bagels reads "Festivus yes! Bagels no!"

Festivus for the rest of us!

Lara Celini, Community Engagement Manager

December 18, 2023

Lots of us get tired of the commercialism and stress of Christmas. Our community engagement manager Lara tells us why it’s Festivus all the way for her!

In the third century BCE the Roman comic poet Plautus used the word “Festivus” to refer to the wild celebrations of common folk. But I didn’t come across it until I watched the 166th episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld, which aired in December 1997.

In this episode, George Costanza’s family celebrates Festivus as an alternative to Christmas. I remember laughing out loud when I first watched it. Although it was comedy fun, it resonated with me. Years later, re-watching it, I felt a genuine appeal in this non-commercial, secular anti-holiday that didn’t conform. It turns out I wasn’t alone! This has been demonstrated by the wide adoption of Festivus in many humorous and unexpected ways.

I didn’t come across Festivus until I watched the 166th episode of the NBC sitcom Seinfeld which aired in December 1997. I felt a genuine appeal in this non-commercial, secular anti-holiday that didn’t conform

Lara, Community Engagement Manager, Humanist Society Scotland
Lara poses in a black flowery dress with a plate of bagels behind a table showing two unadorned aluminium Festivus poles.
LAra with her unadorned festivus Pole and a plate of bagels.

In said episode of Seinfeld, Festivus occurs on 23rd December. It includes a Festivus dinner and an unadorned aluminium Festivus pole. Practices include the “airing of grievances,” “feats of strength,” and the labelling of easily explainable events as “Festivus miracles!” The ceremony is described as “a Festivus for the rest of us.”

Seinfeld co-writer Dan O’Keefe loosely based this infamous episode, “The Strike,” on his own experience of a “Festivus” holiday invented by his father back in the 1970s. In their family it didn’t have a set date, which actually suits me rather well. As it’s a moveable feast you can enjoy it at any time of year that suits you! For the most part, it’s celebrated in December, as an alternative to the pressures and commercialism of the Christmas season.

Over the years I have inadvertently converted many friends to Festivus. They’ve come along to join the fun out of a sense of curiosity and the promise of free bagels. (I’ve yet to make anything resembling the reddish meatloaf-shaped food that sits on a bed of lettuce in the Seinfeld episode.) They have always left filled with the joy of Festivus! 

As a humanist, I don’t celebrate Christmas in the traditional sense. But in common with many people I value the opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends. It’s a time to down tools and nourish our connections with the people we love over food and fun, through conversation and laughter. 

Festivus is a day to compete and complain, and we do so with gusto! But it’s all warm-hearted and that’s what makes it so much fun. We’re laughing at ourselves, laughing at the absurdity of the world, laughing at ‘traditions’, and making a few of our own along the way.

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