Festivus Miracles”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. Out of that, a new holiday was born: a Festivus for the rest of us!”
So speaks Frank Castanza, father of George of Seinfeld. Of all the cultural reference points bequeathed by the show, few have resonated like the Castanza family holiday. Festivus, as Frank explained it, was a celebration like no other, composed of do-it-yourself ceremonies based on the principle that father knows best.
“The tradition of Festivus begins with the airing of grievances,” Frank announces. “After Festivus dinner, gather your family around and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year.” The Christmas tree was replaced by an aluminum pole. “It requires no decoration,” Frank notes. The day closes with the feats of strength. “Until you pin me, George, Festivus is not over,” Frank hollers. “Stop crying and fight your father!”
In the do-it-yourself spirit of Festivus, The Independent sought out Christmas rituals that stray from the traditional regimen of caroling, gift giving and gorging.
Anti-ChristmasSarah Adkins lost her holiday cheer four years ago, when her car broke down 30 miles from her Durham home on Christmas Eve. Freezing rain fell as Adkins and her companion started hitchhiking. They spent a miserable half-hour thumbing, until finally, a sort-of-good Samaritan in a pick-up came along. “He said, ‘Ya’ll can get in the back,’ and tossed us a jean jacket to huddle under,” Adkins recalls.
“We decided that we hated Christmas, and we made this pact that we wouldn’t do Christmas the next year,” she says. In its place they christened Anti-Christmas, the unholiest day of the year.
Gone are the presents and pageantry. “Anti-Christmas entails heavy drinking starting Christmas Eve,” Adkins says. “We sit around and make fun of Jesus, and we have themed food.” For breakfast, there’s “God’s Green Eggs,” washed down with “Jesus Juice,” which Adkins describes as “a mix of eggnog, rum, coffee and whatever hard liquor is sitting around.” When that runs dry, the Anti-Christmas revelers imbibe “cheap beer for the rest of the afternoon.”
Tit-for-Tat ToysIt all started with a well-intentioned gift to a toddler, according to Diane McDilda, who shared her ritual with the Web site Parentinghumor.com.
One year, one of her brothers gave a bubble lawnmower to another brother’s 2-year-old son. “It sounds like a machine gun with wheels,” the boy’s father complained to his brother, adding ominously: “Wait ’til you have kids.”
“The tradition blossomed into a full-scale war for all of the wrongs done to us by our siblings since birth,” McDilda writes. Each year, family members gave the most parent-irritating toys to their nieces and nephews. Three ground rules developed. The toys either had to “have an infinite number of small pieces,” “make a shrill or deafening noise,” or “permanently stain any piece of furniture, clothing or flesh it comes in contact with.”
Perpetual Re-giftingAnother Seinfeld Christmas chestnut, the “Re-gift,” wherein you pass on an unwanted present to another person, was taken to extraordinary lengths by brothers-in-law Larry Kunkle and Roy Collette of Minnesota.
Call it the Battle of the Britches, a 25-year standoff that began in 1964. Larry’s mom gave him a pair of moleskin pants that he didn’t particularly care for, especially when “he found they froze stiff in Minnesota winters,” according to the San Fernando Valley Folklore Society, which authenticates the story on its online Urban Legends Reference Pages. So the next year, he gave the pants to Roy, who didn’t care to wear them either, and countered the following Christmas by giving the pants back to Larry.
The gag went on for several years, with Roy and Larry trading the pants each Christmas in regularly wrapped boxes. Then Roy got crafty and crammed the pants into a 3-foot pipe. Larry retorted by encasing the pants in wire. Roy hit back by boxing them in a sealed steel container, filling the box with rocks for good measure. Larry returned them sheathed in virtually unbreakable glass. In later years, the brothers-in-law used everything from a tub full of concrete to a 600-pound, welded-shut safe to a trash-compacted car–a morass of metal with the pants buried inside.
The ritual came to a close in 1989, when Roy got a little bit carried away. His plan to cover the pants in “10,000 pounds of jagged glass” went awry as the molten glass reduced the moleskin to ashes. That Christmas, what was left of the pants arrived at Larry’s in an urn, with a card that read: “An attempt to cast the pants in glass brought about the demise of the pants at last.”