Have Yourself a Merry Little Festivus

Festivus-goers at Oklahoma's Grape Ranch will whine, dine -- and play boccie.
Festivus-goers at Oklahoma's Grape Ranch will whine, dine -- and play boccie. (Grape Ranch)
Sunday, November 26, 2006

Have your Festivus pole ready?

On Dec. 18, 1997, the mistletoe-less alternative to the holidays was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public in a "Seinfeld" episode titled "The Strike." Somehow, it stuck. Today many celebrate Festivus, basically whenever they want to. The recent racist outburst by Michael Richards (Kramer) and its attendant uproar apparently haven't affected the faux fete.

It's a Festivus miracle!

During the episode, Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller) relates that the holiday -- replete with "feats of strength" and the "airing of grievances" -- was born after his Christmas Eve tug of war with another man over the last doll in a department store. "As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way," he says. The doll? "It was destroyed. But out of that, a new holiday was born."

Reached by phone a few weeks ago, Stiller -- Father Festivus to the faithful -- said a stranger stopped him recently to ask if he's getting ready for Festivus. "I'd like to put a clamp on all this stuff," he said, "the commercialization that takes over our lives and makes us feel guilty." Sounds just like his fictional character, though he has no party planned (he does own a six-inch Festivus pole, however).

THE BACK STORY: Seinfeld writer Daniel O'Keefe, author of "The Real Festivus" (Penguin Books, $12.95), said his father -- who "was disillusioned by the commercialization of Christmas" -- started it, and he adapted it. Initially, O'Keefe said, "Festivus was a celebration of my parents' first date."

"The real holiday was a floating holiday," O'Keefe said, adding that the kids would come home from school to find odd ethnic music playing. There was always a clock in a bag, though O'Keefe said he never figured out the significance. After the three boys wrestled and Dad recited odd poems, joke gifts would be exchanged.

WATCH . . . "The Strike" on Dec. 14 at 9 p.m. on the TBS cable network, or read the script at http://www.seinfeldscripts.com/TheStrike.htm.

WHERE TO CELEBRATE: Here's a sampling of Festivus events from coast to coast. The Richards controversy notwithstanding, events were still scheduled to go forward at press time.

* Washington. On Dec. 21 from 8 p.m. until closing, Tonic Restaurant Bar & Grill (3155 Mount Pleasant St., 202-986-7661) patrons will be invited to air their grievances -- "Hopefully after a few [$2] Festivus shooters," says co-owner Jeremy Pollok -- around a Festivus pole.

* New York. Guests can sample the chocolate salami pole and nail-impaled shrimp in the party room at the Pink Pony (178 Ludlow St., 212-253-1922) on Dec. 7 at 8 p.m., but the main event is the first-ever Festivus-Chrismukkah smack-down.

Allen Salkin, author of "Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us" (Warner Books, $14.95), told us he's been bodybuilding to wrestle Gersh Kuntzman, author of "Chrismukkah: The Official Guide to the World's Most-Beloved Holiday" (Sasquatch Books, $14.95). For the uninitiated, Chrismukkah is a mix of Christmas and Hanukkah traditions.

Says Kuntzman: "My body will be slicked down with olive oil, a Chrismukkah tradition."

* Springfield, Ill. Wade Ebert says he's celebrated Festivus the past 14 years because it's "whatever the heck you want to make it." Though his party started as a semiprivate affair for friends, last year's fundraiser at a Hilton attracted 700. (The mechanical bulls and inflatable Sumo wrestling suits for the feats of strength got a little out of hand, he says.)

This year, he expects about 400 participants Dec. 23 at his 8 p.m. bash at the Capital City Bar & Grill (3149 S. Dirksen Pkwy., 217-529-8580). Tickets are $6. For more info, call Ebert at 217-280-0790.

* New Orleans. Gifts aren't a big part of Festivus, but the fourth annual Festivus market has a twist: a re-gifting booth -- bring something you hate, take what you like. Then attach your grievances to the pole at the "Office of Homeland Serenity." Shoppers can check out the creations of 40 thrifty artisans on Dec. 3, 10 and 17 from noon to 4 p.m. at 700 Magazine St. (William B. Reily parking lot). Info: 504-861-5898, http://www.festivusmarket.org/.

* Okemah, Okla. At the Festivus celebration Dec. 16 at Grape Ranch (Interstate 40, 918-623-2250), the feats of strength could be unique. "We have the only two regulation boccie courts in Oklahoma," says winery co-owner Jack Whiteman.

The free party begins at noon on the ranch/vineyard, and the "red-dirt" music (an Oklahoma-Texas blend of Southern rock, country, folk and honky-tonk) should warm things up in Woody Guthrie's home town. "In December it could be 75 degrees or 20 degrees," Whiteman says.

Grape Ranch is the home of the Festivus wine label, which features a longhorn skull, partly fashioned in grapes, atop an aluminum pole. Info: http://www.graperanch.com/ or http://www.festivuswine.com/.

* Adair, Ore. The Festivus Sixth Annual Disc Golf Tournament starts at noon Jan. 27 at Adair County Park, an hour from the coast. In disc golf -- "Folf" in Seinfeld lingo, tournament director Greg Johnson reminds us -- metal baskets are mounted on galvanized steel poles. As in ball-and-club golf, the idea is to get the disc into the basket with as few throws as possible.

The Willamette Disc Golf Club will provide chili and suds from local Calapooia Brewing Co., and warmer-uppers may be welcome: "It's common to have rain in January, but it doesn't snow often," Johnson says. "It could be in the 30s to the 50s."

Registration is required; the tournament is limited to 88 players. Entry fees range from $20 for a recreational player to $35 for a professional one (some people take Folf very seriously). Register at http://www.titledisc.com/ (it should be set up by mid-December). For more info, contact Johnson at discgolfgreg@yahoo.com or 541-760-2372.

INFORMATION: Go to http://www.festivusbook.com/ for a Festivus primer and http://www.seinfeld-fan.net/ for trivia and video clips.

-- Sue Kovach Shuman

© 2006 The Washington Post Company