‘Seinfeld’ over, but Festivus keeps giving

Frank Costanza, played by Jerry Stiller, brings Festivus to the masses in a December 1997 "Seinfeld" episode.

Frank Costanza, played by Jerry Stiller, brings Festivus to the masses in a December 1997 "Seinfeld" episode.

by Jessica Ravitz (CNN) Long before company celebrators bench-pressed fax machines, partygoers performed competitive face-plants into ice water, or family members gathered around an aluminum pole to wield complaints at one another, the common people of ancient Rome began to act up.

They were the unruly lot during official religious holidays, the ones who were “raising hell on the streets” while the “elite were putting on their robes,” said journalist Allen Salkin. The adverb to describe their behavior, he said: Festivus, the Latin world for “festive.”

A few thousand years later, and thanks to a “Seinfeld” writer whose father had made Festivus a quirky household tradition, a 1997 episode of the famed sitcom popularized the peculiar day.

To hear it from Frank Costanza, the character played by Jerry Stiller, the December 23 observance calls for little more than the erection of an aluminum pole, the airing of grievances and the demonstration of feats of strength — which preferably culminate in wrestling down to the ground and pinning the head of the household.

“People want something that’s nothing,” said Salkin, author of “Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us,” a book that chronicles the birth and flourishing of this oddly sacred day. “All the traditional holidays exclude somebody,” but with this one, “everyone’s in on the joke.”

The Festivus faithful have gathered across the globe and have come together in places as various as seedy bars, campus squares and corporate boardrooms. Citizens, with varied degrees of success, have petitioned to raise Festivus poles beside public nativity scenes. Social networking sites and holiday-specific venues — like festivusbook.com and festivusweb.com – are go-to places for those who want to share the cheer, or jeers.

For at least eight years, Julianne Donovan, 35, has been hosting Festivus parties in the Kansas City, Missouri, area. The graphic designer and illustrator said she was drawn to the holiday when her then-company department, which included people of various faiths, decided to trade in the traditional Christmas party for something more inclusive.

“It went over well except for one person who thought it was blasphemous and tried to knock over our Festivus pole,” she said. “He refused to come to the potluck, was forced to, came, ate all the food and left without saying thank you. Grievances were aired about him.”

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