The history of Festivus is not quite as cheery as casual Seinfeld fans have been led to believe.
While most will recognize the holiday (celebrated in canon on Dec. 23) as a statement against consumerism not-so-lovingly preached by Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller) in a last season episode of the beloved sitcom (“The Strike”), the writer who invented it has a much darker tale.
Apparently, according to former Seinfeld writer Don O’Keefe, it was a day borne out of his late father’s mental illness and alcoholism.
Unlike the Seinfeld depiction, the history of Festivus did not date back to a celebration every 23rd of December.
It was a day that “floated” and that could sometimes be celebrated more than once per year, depending on his father’s neuroses.
It also did not replace Christmas.
“We celebrated that, too,” O’Keefe reveals in an eye-opening new interview with HuffPost Politics. But life in the O’Keefe household was far from normal.
This was something the Seinfeld writer became acutely aware of at a young age when he passingly remarked to a boy on his bus that his family “had Festivus coming up.”
The clueless expression he received in return taught him that it was something “I should never speak of again.”
In time, O’Keefe would become as ashamed of the holiday as George Costanza, the Seinfeld character who “adopted” it.
In the interview, O’Keefe snarkily talks about how he’s “so glad” his family trauma could become a pop culture sensation.
He also referred to the love that many share for Festivus as a product of people having “nothing better to do” with their lives.
Listening to the entire interview, it seems like O’Keefe is still carrying around a lot of anger and bitterness about the holiday, telling of times when he and his brothers rebelled against Festivus and refused to celebrate it as well as other sordid details of a son begrudgingly coming to terms with his father’s slowly corrosive insanity.
Did O’Keefe’s dad like the fact that his creation made it onto the Show About Nothing?
“At first he was furious,” O’Keefe reveals, adding that he eventually “found a way to use it to his advantage.”
Seinfeld fans who listen to this might feel a little depressed after hearing the holiday creator’s thoughts, but not too much so.
After all, only two of the “tenets” of the Festivus Seinfeld fans grew to know and love originated with O’Keefe’s unhinged father — the airing of grievances and the saying, “a Festivus for the rest of us.”
The aluminum pole and the wrestling (or “feats of strength”) were creations of other writers, who found O’Keefe’s childhood misery natural fodder for the Seinfeld gang.
Those of you taken aback by the dark history of Festivus may be wondering how a comedy writer could possibly be so miserable about what was arguably one of the show’s funniest moments.
Well, comedy is often evolved from tragedy.
You don’t have to look far to find examples of beloved comedians who committed suicide (Robin Williams, Richard Jeni) or lived so recklessly that it shortened their lives (Lenny Bruce).
Mid-Day did a piece on nine such names that you can find at this link, but that’s a list that is hardly exhaustive.
That’s not to say that is how the man behind the history of Festivus feels about his life now, but it’s pretty clear from the video that he has no real love for it.
What do you think about the dark history of Festivus, readers? Does this interview ruin the holiday for you, or are you able to look past it and keep laughing? Also, if you want to learn more about the history of Festivus, make sure you check out the Inquisitr‘s primer on the holiday.
[Image via Seinfeld “The Strike” screen grab]