(ED. NOTE: This piece was originally published in 2015. We’re republishing it today — December 23, 2018 — because, well, today is Festivus. Enjoy.)
By the ninth and final season of Seinfeld, everyone’s favorite show about nothing had already contributed so much to our daily vocabulary. Shrinkage, spongeworthy, “No soup for you!” and yada yada yada – the well of relatable Seinfeld quotes is still full, 17 years after “The Finale” aired and left us wanting more. But no episode has had as much of an impact as “The Strike,” which features Kramer helping Frank Costanza to resurrect the holiday that he had invented when George was a child: Festivus.
Today, you can buy Festivus T-shirts and ugly sweaters, and you can decorate your desk with a miniature pole, or just order the real thing for your home, all while praying that Ben & Jerry’s brings back Festivus ice cream. You can even piss your co-workers off by donating to an actual Human Fund in their honor, and they’ll have to act like they’re appreciative because the money goes to supporting arts-education programs in Cleveland. And what makes it all so remarkable isn’t just that the writer responsible for the Festivus story didn’t think it would even make it into the episode, but that he really hoped that no one would ever find out that it was a holiday that his own father invented.
The real Festivus was created in 1966 by author Daniel O’Keefe, not out of a hatred of all of the commercial and religious aspects of Christmas, but as a unique celebration. His son, Dan O’Keefe, grew up to become a writer for Seinfeld and worked on episodes like “The Pothole,” “The Blood,” and “The Frogger,” among others. But “The Strike” forever became his legacy when the show’s other writers caught wind of the story of this bizarre holiday ritual.
“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 us. “I had actually forgotten about it because I had blotted it out of my mind.”
“I don’t really celebrate Christmas. I celebrate Festivus.”
If the younger O’Keefe had his way, Festivus would have never become a part of Seinfeld lore, let alone TV history, but his brother ended up spilling the beans to Alec Berg and Jeff Schaffer, the other two writers credited on “The Strike.”
“My brother Mark mentioned it to Jeff Schaffer,” O’Keefe recalls. “Jeff told Alec and Dave [Mandel] and, as I recall, they had me meet at Swingers, this diner in Hollywood, and then one of them sat on the other side of me so I couldn’t leave. They asked about Festivus and I said I didn’t really want to talk about it. They said, ‘Well, Mark told us about it,’ and I said, ‘That f*cker.’ They said, ‘We think it might be funny in the show,’ and I said, ‘I think it’s a mistake and sort of a family shame.’ No one had ever expressed any interest in it before, but I swear I thought it was going to be cut out in the edits.”