Festivus: What is the Fictional ‘Seinfeld’ Holiday and What Are the Rules?

One role the late actor Jerry Stiller is known for is playing the Seinfeld character Frank Constanza. One of Frank’s most memorable moments is creating the fictitious holiday Festivus. Here’s what Showbiz Cheat Sheet knows about what Festivus is and the unusual rules surrounding it.

Jerry Stiller first mentions Festivus during a conversation with Kramer on ‘Seinfeld’

Estelle Harris, Jason Alexander, and Jerry Stiller | Margaret Norton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images
Estelle Harris, Jason Alexander, and Jerry Stiller | Margaret Norton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

Festivus is first mentioned by Frank Costanza during an episode of Seinfeld. He explains to Kramer the event that led to Festivus. “Many Christmases ago, I bought a doll for my son,” Frank told Kramer. “I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.” Frank’s shopping trip didn’t go as planned because the doll he wanted to purchase was destroyed during the fight.

Frank tells Kramer all was not lost because he had an idea for a new holiday after that unfortunate experience. “Out of that, a new holiday was born,” he tells Kramer. “A Festivus for the rest of us.”

What is Festivus on ‘Seinfeld’?

Festivus is a fictional holiday invented by Frank that’s meant to replace Christmas. Why did Frank create this unusual celebration? The reason he felt the need to make up a new holiday is because he was bothered by the emphasis on material items during the Christmas season.

George Costanza, Frank’s son, is embarrassed by his father’s celebration of Festivus. He once said his family’s observance of the day got them run out of Bayside, Queens. The holiday is also a source of trauma for him because it reminds him of how harshly his father treated him when he was growing up. Frank says Festivus is here to stay and his son shouldn’t shy away from it. “George, Festivus is your heritage,” Frank tells his son. “It’s part of who you are.”

During one scene, Frank visits George at the diner, holding the Festivus pole. He also has a tape recorder with a recording of one of the family’s Festivus celebrations. George runs screaming and leaves the diner because the recording is of Frank yelling at George for needing his glasses to read a poem.

The rules of Festivus

Festivus has some unusual rules. Here’s what Frank says the rules of Festivus are:

1. Dinner begins with the airing of grievances. “At the Festivus dinner, you gather your family around, and you tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year,” says Frank during a conversation where he explains Festivus to Kramer.

2. There’s no Christmas tree. Many families who celebrate the holidays include a Christmas tree as part of their decorations. However, a tree is absent from Constanza holiday celebrations. Instead, they put up an aluminum pole. “It requires no decoration,” Frank tells Kramer. “I find tinsel distracting.”

3. The family engages in “feats of strength.” During this time, the family participates in a wrestling match. Festivus officially ends once a dinner guest has pinned Frank down during the match.  

Festivus was inspired by a true story

Where did the idea of Festivus come from? Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe told Uproxx the holiday was created by his father. He wasn’t fond of the day and tried his best to forget about it. “It is a fake holiday my dad made up in the ’60s to celebrate the anniversary of his first date with my mother, and it was something that we celebrated as a family in a very peculiar way through the ‘70s, and then I never spoke of it again,” O’Keefe tells the publication. “I had actually forgotten about it because I had blotted it out of my mind.”

O’Keefe says he didn’t want to mention the fake holiday, but his brother mentioned it to two other Seinfeld writers. Not long after that, the famous episode “The Strike” was born.

Read more: What Was Jerry Stiller’s Net Worth at the Time of His Death?

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