It's time for some straight talk about this silliness that is referred to as Festivus. Imagine my surprise when I did research and discovered that it is a total farce--I had thought that it was some kind of revival of a neglected holiday that anyone could share in. Somebody went into the archives and found an old occasion that could be used for a universally-shared winter holiday, right? Turns out, Festivus doesn't compare favorably even to Kwanzaa, and Kwanzaa has fallen out of favor with the general public.
The people who created Kwanzaa tried to bring out the various qualities that make a good person; they brought back words in African languages. They have their candles and seasonal foods. Whether it works or not isn't exactly the determining factor if you are willing to acknowledge even a fraction of the assault on the identity of Africa-American people. I never had much interest in Kwanzaa, although I never begrudged it to the black community.
But Festivus is nothing other than a pointless exercise in flippancy and disrespect for everyone else. Do not make the mistake of thinking that faiths other than Christianity and Judaism have no winter festivals. Hindus have Diwali; Pagans have the Midwinter celebrations, known long ago as Yule.
In short, Festivus is not "for the rest of us." As it says in Wikipedia:
"Festivus, a well-celebrated parody, has become a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 which serves as an alternative to participating in the pressures and commercialism of the Christmas and holiday season. Originally a family tradition of scriptwriter Dan O'Keefe working on the American sitcom Seinfeld, the holiday entered popular culture after it was made the focus of a 1997 episode of the program. The holiday's celebration, as it was shown on Seinfeld, includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum 'Festivus pole,' practices such as the Airing of Grievances and Feats of Strength, and the labeling of easily explainable events as Festivus miracles. The episode refers to it as a Festivus for the rest of us, referencing its non-commercial aspect. It has also been described as a parody holiday festival and as a form of playful consumer resistance."
So writer O'Keefe invented this midwinter celebration. I am guessing that originally he probably intended it to be another iteration of fun and good will (if he was teaching his children to mock and disrespect other people's faith I will have to hear that from him). However, after a very limited exposure I had to Jerry Seinfeld's unpleasant and unfunny show, I stopped watching it after a couple of episodes because I couldn't take the attitude. It doesn't surprise me that the cynical writers twisted Festivus into its present ugly shape.
Apparently the secular-minded folks who took Festivus away from O'Keefe think that there is no way to escape the Christmas materialism; without it there is no holiday, they think. But if Christians can create their own respectful observance of Hanukkah out of admiration for the story behind it, and ignore the materialism to focus on the Nativity, then apparently it can be done.
And as if the in-your-face attitude of beer-can Festivus Poles and disrespect towards religion were not enough, the people who hijacked O'Keefe's little family tradition have introduced financial chicanery to it:
"The Human Fund is a fake charity used by George Costanza. After getting a similar gift from his friend Tim Whatley, George gives out cards to his co-workers stating that a donation had been made to a charity called The Human Fund, with the slogan, Money For People."
This is supposed to be hilarious, as the "people" mentioned on the cards are the people who give them out. In other words, I put five dollars in my pocket and hand you a card that says I have given five dollars to "people" in your name. Isn't that funny? Wouldn't you prefer to give a hundred dollars to yourself instead of feeding hungry children in Tucson by giving it to the Community Food Bank? What a hoot!
For several years I have been exchanging comments and email with many people who don't practice religion. They are divided into two groups: those who respect religion but have some reason not to accept it, and those who love to rain contempt and insults on believers. It so happens that most of the people who plan to "celebrate" Festivus with their aluminum poles (if they can't get one made of empty beer cans) seem to be the latter type. I could be wrong, but there it is. I'd like the people who are redeeming Festivus with some kind of sincere interfaith, multicultural get-togethers to step forward, please. But they are not the folks who run the "real Festivus" website, I assure you.
And that's all they've got as far as I can tell: a parody party that anyone can have if they think that Christmas is nothing more than the shop-shop we see on television. It's for people who think that a menorah is nothing more than a candelabrum. It is for people who look up at the night sky and feel only the winter's chill--who don't know what night it is that the days start becoming longer again as spring approaches.
Festivus is also for people who consider themselves a few notches above average, people who resemble the man who went to the Temple in Jesus' time. "Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men," he said, feeling good about himself. This cheap-thrills holiday should not be called Festivus. I think that Dan O'Keefe should reclaim it. The correct name for this fake exercise in shallow self-love is Vulgaris.
Those who are tempted to flame this column because they can't resist pointing out the flaws of religion, or Christianity, ought to be reading it every day to see that I spend quite a bit of time doing just that. But my criticism of religion does not include becoming an unbeliever. It just isn't that simple, although if you think it is, I can't stop you. And now you have your Festivus Vulgaris and you can thumb your nose at the world and thank the Lord that you are not as other men.
For more info: there is actually a real "Human Fund," which is online as a nonprofit organization supporting arts education. Their web page says:
"The Human Fund effectively supports arts education programs for the under-served youth of the city of Cleveland, providing a commitment to funding the CMSD All City Arts and Music Program and Festival annually.
"We are a non-traditional foundation taking a fresh approach to fundraising. Our foundation takes arts education seriously and as a friend of the arts, The Human Fund is committed to financial support for youth arts programming."
You could make a donation to them if you are not giving your Festivus Vulgaris dollars to "people," or in other words, yourself. Or as I mentioned above, you could donate to the Tucson Community Food Bank as food support and unemployment benefits are about to leave Tucsonans hungry (Merry Christmas from the Republicans!). You could donate a desk to the Kids in Need of Desks Fund (KIND) that commentator Lawrence O’Donnell founded in cooperation with UNICEF. In short, there is a lot you could do with some of your money besides keeping it in your account and sneering at “the rest of us.”