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.)

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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.

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