The Tampa Bay Times has an article today about Festivus, the "holiday" created in a 1997 Seinfeld episode. Frank Costanza, George's father played by Jerry Stiller, announces, "At the Festivus dinner, you gather your family around, and you tell them all the ways they have disappointed you over the past year." It's sort of Thanksgiving in reverse, something people with a certain personality, or a certain sense of humor, might go for. And they do. Nearly 20 years later, Christopher Sparta tells us in his story, Festivus continues to be celebrated here and there. And today is Festivus.
Festivus works as an example of how popular culture shapes holiday celebrations. How we celebrate Christmas today, Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone write in Used and Rare, is heavily influenced by Charles Dickens and the incredible popularity of A Christmas Carol when it first appeared in 1843. "What before had been a one-day, quiet sort of holiday became an occasion for feasting and gifts, songs and games. Christmas cards, which had never been particularly popular before, suddenly became a fixture of the holiday," they write. "It was as though Charles Dickens had taught people how to rejoice and celebrate."
Since then popular culture has influenced the holiday in many ways. Another literary work, Clement Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas," written before the Dickens story, created lasting images of Santa Claus and his reindeer. A century later Gene Autry further shaped holiday celebrations with songs like Here Comes Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Popular Christmas movies and A Charlie Brown Christmas have also had an impact.
Halloween, which has in recent decades developed into the second most popular holiday, is heavily influenced by popular culture. Just look at the favorite choices in costumes each year. Years ago the Detroit Lions made watching NFL football on television a part of the Thanksgiving tradition. Now there are three NFL games each Thanksgiving Day, and most of us consume too much football the way we consume too much turkey and pumpkin pie.
New traditions are being created all the time. Some will last, others won't.
Gloomy Festivus everyone!