No Frills

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To listen to today’s reflection as a podcast, click here
A Festivus for the rest of us!

If your heart isn’t stirred by that passionate cry, and if the aluminum pole pictured here makes no sense, you’re probably not a Seinfeld buff.

In December 1997 the sitcom aired what became one of its most famous episodes.

Jason Alexander’s character, George Costanza, reveals that his father had invented a secular holiday called Festivus – complete with its own traditions and rituals – to be celebrated on December 23.

Many of Seinfeld’s best moments were based on actual events from the lives of its writers, and this was no exception.

Dan O’Keefe, who crafted the episode, grew up in a family in which Festivus was a real thing – actually, a real made-up thing.  His father invented Festivus in 1966 as a playful way of commemorating the day he first dated Dan’s mother (December 23), and as a deliberate departure from the commercial craziness of Christmas.

According to Seinfeld, Festivus is celebrated with a stark, undecorated aluminum rod, appropriately named the Festivus Pole.  George’s father praises its “very high strength-to-weight ratio.”

The Festivus meal begins with the Airing of Grievances, in which everyone takes a turn itemizing how everyone else let them down during the previous 12 months.

Then come Feats of Strength, in which the male members of the household wrestle on the floor until the host is successfully pinned.  Along the way, anyone is free to point out “Festivus miracles,” which are pretty much totally explainable everyday events.  

It was a half-hour of utter silliness.

Who knew that it would spawn a national movement?

These days it’s not uncommon to see Festivus poles competing with nativity scenes in public places.  The governor of Wisconsin even erected one in his official residence.  In 2022, thousands of people signed a petition that Festivus become a national holiday on December 23. 

Before Christians become panicked over the perception that Festivus is some sort of treacherous pagan rival to Christmas, it’s worth remembering why the gag started in the first place:  Christmas, as it is widely celebrated in the United States, has become an overly commercial, exhausting, make-sure-you-check-all-the-boxes annual obligation.

Wouldn’t it be great if Christmas felt more like a get-to than a have-to?

Would it hurt God’s feelings if we declared that enough is enough, and that we really wanted to step away from the frills and the insanity?

If that’s how you feel from time to time, here’s the good news: God is on your side.

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you,” says author Anne Lamott.  

Don’t be afraid to power down a few times between now and the end of the year.  It’s spiritually wise to find ways to turn down the rpm’s of our lives.

As we’ve mentioned in recent posts, it can be incredibly restorative just to be for a few minutes each day.  Choose silence.  Be gentle with yourself.  Less clutter.  Less noise.  

Sabotage the narrative that says you have to follow the old Christmas script.  

Do something gracious for someone who can never pay you back.  Slow down sufficiently to listen to someone – really listen – instead of multi-taking your way through your to-do list.  Write a note to someone (yes, texts and emails count) and tell them your life has been richer because they’ve been part of it.
Sad to say, but the Airing of Grievances was an established tradition in many of our homes long before Seinfeld hit the air.  Before you get together with family members, quietly resolve that you won’t play that game this year. 
Perhaps you can memorize Ephesians 4:29: “Watch the way you talk.  Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth.  Say only what helps, each word a gift.”  One person who is committed to being a gracious, non-anxious presence can change the temperature of an entire room. 

What, in the end, is the attractiveness of Festivus?

It’s a no-frills way to experience the holidays.

Perhaps a heartfelt, no-frills Christmas for the rest of us is exactly what we need.