Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us
by Allen Salkin, appearing at Powell's City of Books, Wed Nov 23, 7:30 pm, free
Remember the Festivus episode of Seinfeld? With Frank Costanza (Jerry Stiller) insisting that his deadbeat son and shrieking wife celebrate a new sort of winter holiday—one where the family would gather around not a tree but a stark aluminum pole, air grievances about one another, and engage in feats of strength?
Such is the holiday that New York Times writer Allen Salkin explores in Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us, a cutesy hardcover book that can't decide if it wants to be a cutesy book of stories about those who celebrate Festivus or a cutesy DIY Festivus guide. To air my own grievances: Both options are pretty boring.
It shouldn't have been, though. I mean, that Seinfeld episode is really funny, and other than this one weird thing I keep hearing about (Hanukkah?), I have yet to see a smart response to how lame Christmas is for anyone over the age of four. But Salkin never captures what made the holiday so funny for Seinfeld: The fact that it's a made-up holiday created by a crazy old asshole who wanted to torture his family. Instead, Festivus treats the made-up holiday like a real one—like one that's worthy of both being celebrated and written about. It's worthy of neither. (What it is worthy of is an episode of Seinfeld—which it already has.)
There are a few highlights in the book's brief 129 pages: a tantalizing mention of some erotic dancing going on around a Festivus pole, a funny look at Miami University's frat-like "Festivus House," and a recipe for "Festivus Shooters," which requires both "cheap rum" and the vomit-inducing "malt liquor energy drink" Sparks. Also, these lines: "There has yet to be a lawsuit over the right of a federal judge to erect a Festivus display in a public courthouse. It could be because no one believes enough in Festivus to bring such a fight because there is nothing to believe in."
There you go. Them's the best parts. Now instead of wading through Salkin's not-quite-clever prose and winking reportage, track down the Seinfeld DVDs, a pole, and some Sparks, and throw yourself a Festivus. It'll be more fun than this book.