Festivus: Not a Pagan Celebration

Chaz Stevens from Deerfield Beach, Florida erected a Festivus pole made of beer cans in the rotunda of the Florida Capitol in December, 2013. Image by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Reader Question:

A reader says, “I heard about a celebration called Festivus, involving a pole. I want to celebrate it because I assumed it was an ancient Roman festival, but when I told my dad about it he laughed and said it’s not a Pagan celebration at all. Is that true?”

Answer:

It is so very, very true. Your dad is totally right. He is very wise, and you should heed his words.

Here’s the thing. If you want to put up a pole and celebrate Festivus, have at it.

It’s probably going to be a hoot. But it’s pretty important to establish the origins of this celebration before you go inviting your friends over for a “Pagan Festivus party."

The whole idea of the Festivus pole found its way into pop culture thanks to the comedy show Seinfeld, back around 1997. In one episode, character George Costanza and his dad discussed this very secular and not-ancient celebration, and fun things to do such as The Airing of Grievances and Feats of Great Strength. The aluminum Festivus Pole is erected and hailed, as Festivus is “for the rest of us.”

The origins for the script of this particular episode of Seinfeld can be traced to show writer Dan O’Keefe, who says that in the late 1960s, his family celebrated this parody holiday any time there was dissent in the house. He wrote about it in hilarious detail in his 1982 book, Stolen Lightning: The Social Theory of Magic.

So, getting back to modern celebration – occasionally this wacky celebration pops up in the news, such as in December 2013, when a Florida atheist won the right to erect a beer-can-covered Festivus pole in the Capitol Building, right next to a Nativity scene and a Menorah.

Occasionally, people put up a Festivus pole as a way of protesting the crass commercialism of the December holiday season.

Or just because they like silly things.

Want to celebrate Festivus? Go for it – set up a plain, unadorned pole in your living room (or one made from beer cans, if you have a pile of them lying around with nothing to do). Invite friends and family over so you can tell them how much they’ve disappointed you this year. If anything really cool happens, be sure to shout “It’s a Festivus miracle!”

You can do anything you like, and have a good time. But let’s be clear on the fact that this is not an ancient Pagan celebration at all, and is instead the result of an incredibly funny bit of television history.

Looking for actual Pagan celebrations to celebrate in December? There are a ton of them!