This emphasis on disappointment and complaint is in contrast to other American holidays such as Thanksgiving. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Las Posadas, or something else, there’s a lot of pressure to give thanks and embrace the spirit of peace and love and community. That pressure to be grateful and generous can be difficult, and so Festivus taps into a far more natural impulse: griping.
Though Festivus was introduced to the world in an episode of Seinfeld, its roots go deeper. Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe’s family had been celebrating a version of Festivus since the 1960s. The real-life Festivus, fortunately, was less angry and unsettling than the televised version, though it did include some strange details, such as a clock in a bag nailed to the wall for reasons known only to O’Keefe’s father. This quirky tradition was a source of embarrassment for O’Keefe, who had to be persuaded by other writers to pitch the holiday for the show. As O’Keefe sheepishly said in a DVD commentary, “The details may have differed, but the pain and the peculiarity were very real.”
That’s part of the reason that since 1997, Festivus has blossomed in real life, as many people hold private and public Festivus celebrations. Some of them focus on the non-commercial aspect, such as events mentioned in the Arizona Daily Sun: “Festivus is about a safe and sane holiday season that fully embraces having fun, but doing so without spending a lot of money. Festivus includes walks, snowshoe treks, workshops and more.”