The True Story Behind Seinfeld’s Festivus

Published December 23, 2015
Updated July 2, 2019

Did you know the classic comedy's Festivus holiday was based on a real family tradition? Grab your aluminum pole and read on.

While millions around the world prepare for Christmas this Friday, thousands of loyal Seinfeld fans begin to gather around their unadorned aluminum poles to air their grievances for Festivus. But just what is this secular “holiday” celebrated two days before Christmas?

While the holiday became famous on one of the greatest television series of all time, it was in fact created in 1966 by author Daniel O’Keefe as a unique celebration during the holidays. His son, Dan O’Keefe, became a writer for Seinfeld and eventually shared his family’s bizarre holiday tradition with his writing team for the episode “The Strike,” with the help of his brother.

“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 told Yahoo News. “I had actually forgotten about it because I had blotted it out of my mind.”

O’Keefe was reluctant to write about the tradition, desperately hoping to avoid shaming his family legacy and writing career. But the rest of his writing team found the ritual hysterical, and with some fine-tuning and a dash of classic Seinfeld humor, Festivus was born.

Some parts of the holiday were added by the writers, such as the legendary aluminum pole. “That came out of Festivus being anti-commercial, and what’s the least like a tree? A warm living thing, and just an antiseptic metal pole,” said Alec Berg, one of the three writers credited on the episode.

Other traditions, however, were real, with the airing of grievances being an accurate portrayal of the O’Keefe’s family tradition, right down to the tape recorder. So if you want an authentic Festivus experience, do as Frank Costanza says: “Gather your family around and tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year.” ‘Tis the season of Festivus!

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