In his new book, Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us, author Allen Salkin details how the Seinfeld-inspired celebration transcends television.
The everymans holiday
By Laura Silver
He claims hes not a die-hard Seinfeld fan, and insists hes not a nice, Jewish boy overcompensating for a childhood of Christmas-tree envy. Rather, Allen Salkin, Manhattan journalist and author of Festivus: The Holiday For The Rest of Us, is intrigued by the untold story of the television-inspired fête. Clad in a JDate jersey, he revealed the holidays lesser-known aspects at a recent New School interview.
Salkin, 39, has a boyish look and a keen marketing sense. Take for example his recent habit of carrying an unadorned aluminum pole around town. Friends cast sideways glances, but fellow subway riders have been quick to identify the quintessential icon of this pseudo holiday, in which a metal pole takes the place of the Christmas tree or the Menorah. Airing grievances and performing of feats of strength are also central to Festivus celebrations, slated for December 23 according to Seinfeld, but permissible and encouraged any day of the year. Its a brilliantly simple summation of the best part of all holidays, says Salkin. You go some place with some people, you have a fight, and at the end of the night you feel a little bit better.
His book has a similar effect. Its chock full of entertaining tidbits about real-life Festivus celebrations inspired by the sitcom, with a foreword by Father Festivus himself, Jerry Stiller. On the now legendary episode 166, Stiller (Frank Costanza) insisted that the party couldnt end until the man of the house was wrestled to the ground. The 1997 portrayal won him an Emmy nomination and an American Comedy Award for Funniest Male Guest Appearance in a Television Series.
Over 2,000 years before Stiller or Salkin were born, Festivus was already in the works. A Roman poet used the word to refer to wild parties. A 19th century marine biologist lent the name to a species of snail. Eponymous ice cream flavors (now defunct) and kittens (still thriving) have since cropped up.
Last December, Salkin received a call from a friend in Ohio who was going to a Festivus party. I woke up in the middle of the night and realized: Thats a story, he remembered. Eleven months after his article ran in The New York Times Style section, the Lower East Sider is promoting his first book and assorted holiday trappings. Im making a deal with some pole manufacturer in Milwaukee, he said. I want to see if people actually order t-shirts and poles, he said.
Salkin, a Riverdale native who studied and taught journalism at New York University, insists that the cultural phenomenon hes been scrutinizing doesnt try to embroider the meaninglessness with meaning. Still, he admits that his own spiritual leanings are quite secular. My holy icons are Woody Allen, Bob Dylan and Philip Roth.
An apt antidote to Secret Santas, office parties, and inflatable dreidels, his book is a welcome escape from the seasons überconsumerism and is compact enough to stash under a holiday tablecloth. If the meal, company, or conversation rubs you the wrong way, simply flip to page 61. Blank lines await the airing of your grievances.
Salkin gripes that Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa leave out a lot of people. Hindus, Muslims, and Native Americans always seem to end up with the short end of the pole come wintertime. No need for that. You can be pro-Festivus without being anti-anything, he says.
Salkin reads from Festivus at the Barnes & Noble in Chelsea, Nov. 18 at 7 PM. For more information, visit www.festivusbook.com.