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December 23 is Festivus

Happy Festivus!

Today is Festivus. What is it? Where did it come from? Per Wikipedia:

Festivus is bfestivusoth a parody and a secular holiday celebrated on December 23 that serves as an alternative to participating in the pressures and commercialism of the Christmas season. It has been described as “the perfect secular theme for an all-inclusive December gathering.”

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.”

In recent years, the Festivus pole has been appropriated as a symbol of protest against local governments that place nativity scenes in public areas. In Florida, a variation made of Pabst Blue Ribbon cans sparked outrage at its proximity to the baby Jesus. Poles wrapped in rainbow colors representing LGBTQ rights have been erected in Georgia, Oklahoma and Washington State.

The “Real” Festivus

Festivus existed long before Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe was pressured into sharing it with the world. (More on that later.) His father Daniel O’Keefe Sr. created it in 1966 as a secular celebration, unburdened by the religious zeal and consumerism of the holiday season. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Festivus was an annual tradition in the O’Keefe household.

Festivus had no set date. It could fall on any day of the year although usually not on Christmas Day. Inspired by the protagonist of Samuel Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape, who recorded himself once a year, O’Keefe Sr. used a tape recorder to capture the proceedings.

The family still has some Festivus audiotapes dating back to the 1970s which include participants speaking out about what was bothering them in what could be termed a proto-Airing of the Grievances without the fancy name.

In 2013, Dan O’Keefe spoke on CNN about the real-life practice of Festivus. He revealed that the aluminum pole was a Seinfeldian invention; his father used a clock.

“The real symbol of the holiday was a clock that my dad put in a bag and nailed to the wall every year … I don’t know why, I don’t know what it means, he would never tell me. He would always say, ‘That’s not for you to know.'”

The following is an excerpt from a 2004 New York Times interview with Dan:

Festivus“It was entirely more peculiar than on the show,” the younger Mr. O’Keefe said from the set of the sitcom “Listen Up,” where he is now a writer. There was never a pole, but there were airings of grievances into a tape recorder and wrestling matches between Daniel and his two brothers, among other rites.

“There was a clock in a bag,” said Mr. O’Keefe, 36, adding that he does not know what it symbolized.

“Most of the Festivi had a theme,” he said. “One was, `Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?’ Another was, `Too easily made glad?’ ”

His father, a former editor at Reader’s Digest, said the first Festivus took place in February 1966, before any of his children were born, as a celebration of the anniversary of his first date with his wife, Deborah. The word “Festivus” just popped into his head, he said from his home in Chappaqua, N.Y.

For more information about the O’Keefe family Festivus, get a copy of The Real Festivus (2005) by Dan O’Keefe. He has managed to capture his family’s holiday in all its strangeness. Additionally, Festivus! The Book devotes an entire chapter to the O’Keefe brand of Festivus.

Festivus, Televised


How did Festivus make it into an episode of Seinfeld? According to a 2013 story in Mother Jones Magazine, it wasn’t Dan’s idea.

One day in 1997, one of O’Keefe’s brothers let it slip to a member of the Seinfeld staff that this family holiday existed, and the crew thought thought was funny enough to write into the series. “I didn’t pitch it. I fought against it,” O’Keefe says. “I thought it would be embarrassing and drag the show down, but…Jerry liked it.”

If Dan’s brothers hadn’t blabbed about it, the world would have one less holiday to celebrate. We’re against that.

Festivus, Costanza Edition

The Festivus most people know is the version depicted in the Seinfeld Season 9 episode entitled The Strike. In it, Frank Costanza explains the incident that inspired him to invent Festivus.

FrankFestivus Costanza: Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. 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!
Cosmo Kramer: What happened to the doll?
Frank Costanza: It was destroyed. But out of that a new holiday was born—a Festivus for the rest of us!
Cosmo Kramer: That must’ve been some kind of doll.
Frank Costanza: She was.

Frank revives the holiday, much to the chagrin of son George, still traumatized by childhood memories of having to fight his father and lose the Festivus Feats of Strength year after year. As Frank plays back a recording of one such humiliation for his friends to hear, George bolts for the door. (Like many holidays, Festivus can sometimes take a dark turn.)

If you’d like to celebrate but need a little guidance, check out these Festivus Rules. Or make up your own tradition following the one directive used for all Seinfeld episodes: No hugs, no learning. We think the O’Keefes would approve.

Happy Festivus!

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays

December 22 is National Cookie Exchange Day

Today is National Cookie Exchange Day. Take a break from last-minute decorating, shopping, wrapping, and planning for the coming holiday. Happy? Humbug? Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, it’s difficult to avoid the stress leading up to the biggest holiday of the year.

National Cookie Exchange Day

Sit back and eat a cookie or three. Swap your favorites with friends and family, try one of the following recipes:

Snickerdoodles
Molasses Drops
Classic Sugar Cookies
Soft Christmas Cookies
Pumpkin Cookies with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Or visit a bakery and take the whole day off. We’ll never tell! The point of this holiday is to relax and enjoy yourself.

Happy National Cookie Exchange Day!

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays

Forefathers’ Day

forefathers' day

Forefathers’ Day commemorates the landing of the Mayflower and the pilgrims’ subsequent founding of Plymouth Colony in North America. The ship arrived on December 11, 1620. So why is the anniversary celebrated on December 21 or December 22?

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII announced his Gregorian calendar would replace the Julian calendar introduced in 46 B.C. by Julius Caesar.  The Roman emperor’s system had miscalculated the length of the solar year by 11 minutes.

This concerned the pope because it meant that Easter, traditionally observed on March 21, fell further away from the spring equinox with each passing year. Ten days were subtracted to realign the seasons with the calendar. The beginning of the new year was also moved to January 1 from March 25.

England and the colonies didn’t convert to the new system until September 1752, causing the month’s calendar to look like this:

 cal 9 1752
  September 1752
 S  M Tu  W Th  F  S
       1  2 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Benjamin Franklin wrote of the change, “It is pleasant for an old man to be able to go to bed on September 2, and not have to get up until September 14.”

When the Old Colony Club of Plymouth inaugurated Forefathers’ Day in 1769, it mistakenly reset the anniversary of the ship’s landing to December 22. (Perhaps it utilized the 11-day difference appropriate to its own century.)

Founders' Day

Members still observe the holiday on December 22, wearing top hats and marching down Plymouth’s main street led by a drummer. After firing a small cannon at the end of the route, they return to their club for breakfast and toasts to the Pilgrims.

Other groups like the General Society of Mayflower Descendants observe the occasion, sometimes called Compact Day, on December 21, as does the Pilgrim Society, a group formed in 1820 that serves a traditional dinner of succotash, stew, corn, turnips, and beans.

No matter how or when you choose to celebrate it, have a happy Forefathers’ Day!

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays

December 20 is Mudd Day

Today is Mudd Day. It commemorates the birthday of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was accused of conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln and hiding his killer, John Wilkes Booth, after the fact.

Mudd Day

Dr. Samuel Mudd

After killing Lincoln on April 14, 1865, Booth fractured his fibula when he jumped from the president’s box seat to the stage of the Ford Theater and fled the scene. He and co-conspirator David Herold rode on horseback to Dr. Mudd’s house, arriving in the middle of the night. Mudd splinted Booth’s leg and let the men rest in a bedroom upstairs. They were at the house for at least twelve hours before leaving in late afternoon to continue their flight.

(The fugitives were cornered two weeks later in a Virginia tobacco shed by Union cavalry. Herold surrendered. Booth refused. Soldiers set the shed on fire and shot Booth as he tried to escape the flames.)

It’s possible Mudd didn’t know about the assassination. He went into town to run errands during the day of April 15th and certainly would have learned the news then. But he failed to report Booth’s visit for another twenty-four hours.

Authorities found Mudd’s hesitation suspicious. His inaction certainly allowed the men more time to escape. Under interrogation, he changed his story several times. He may have done so due to the stress of being questioned. He was arrested on April 26th, coincidentally the same day Booth was killed and Herold taken prisoner.

On June 29, 1865, Mudd was found guilty of conspiring to murder President Lincoln. He was sentenced to life in prison, escaping the death penalty by one vote. Four of the convicted, including Herold, were hanged eight days later.

Mudd was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson and released from prison in 1869. He died of pneumonia on January 10, 1883. Despite ongoing efforts to have his record expunged, Mudd’s conviction has never been overturned. A Facebook page is dedicated to clearing his name and his home has become a museum.

*****

One thing is clear, however. The phrase “your name is mud” has no connection to Dr. Mudd. Use of the word “mud” to label things as worthless or unwholesome dates back as far as the 16th century. Its usage was later applied to people, as documented in a 1703 description of London’s low life, Hell upon Earth:

Mud, a Fool, or thick skull Fellow.

The following citation appeared in an 1823 dictionary of slang terms.

Mud – a stupid twaddling fellow. ‘And his name is mud!’ ejaculated upon the conclusion of a silly oration, or of a leader in the Courier.

Oddly, “mud” was also used as a general intensifier. There are many published examples of “as fat as mud,” “as rich as mud,” “as sick as mud” etc. Eventually, the meanings coalesced into an epithet that insulted a person’s worth and identity, and sometimes carried a threat of violence. “Your name is mud” has been in use ever since.

Happy Mudd Day, we think.

Copyright 2016 Worldwide Weird Holidays