Just in Time for Christmas

Jazmine Hughes

Jazmine Hughes wrote what is easily the funniest New Yorker Shouts & Murmurs piece of the last five years. She writes a lot of great stuff for the Hairpin, too. She was a dancer in high school.

Christmas for the Rest of Us
by Jazmine Hughes

This is a story about how it took me 20-odd years to learn the true meaning of a certain December holiday.

“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! FESTIVUS IS JUST SOMETHING FROM SEINFELD?!!!!!” I asked my friends, agog. They told me yes, and that, as someone who celebrated the holiday for the past four years, I should’ve known that. It’s true: the liberal arts school in Connecticut that I attended did officially sanction Festivus as a holiday, throwing annual parties in its name. In 2008, I arrived at my college fresh from the underperforming inner-city public schools of New Haven, a city about an hour away, but seemed, in ways, like an entirely different world; for all I knew, Festivus was just some Greek holiday I'd never heard of. 

“Festivus isn’t Greek!” my boyfriend, a Greek, told me, exasperated. “Festivus doesn’t even sound Greek.” He was right. If anything, it sounds vaguely Latin, but, again, if you’re coming from an underperforming inner-city public high school and just started dating a Greek guy, everything sounds sort of Greek. I think of Festivus and I think of grapes and chaises and centaurs prancing and a king’s dead body in the corner, not of the insides of some sitcom writer’s brain. 

As I do when I learn new things, I tweeted about it. My college responded and told me they wanted my diploma back. I deleted my tweet.

Up until this year, I had never seen Seinfeld. I wore my ignorance as a badge of honor, thinking it’d make me look cool, like a white guy does when he decides to grow dreadlocks. But I eventually found out, much like I hope those same white guys do someday, that it does NOT, and people get really mad at you. “What do you MEAN you’ve never seen Seinfeld?!” a man at a bar said to me once. “What the fuck is WRONG with you?”

So this year, my roommate, a Seinfeld aficionado, decided to set me straight; we would watch Seinfeld, together, in order, from the beginning. This was a terrible idea, and we couldn’t stick with it; not only because of work and social events and other stuff that eventually rendered us too busy, but also because Seinfeld is not that good of a show. “It doesn’t get really good until Season 3!” people told me. That’s a quarter of the way through its life! If I didn’t start doing my job until I was 30, would I still be critically acclaimed?

The reason I started watching Seinfeld is because I wanted to finally understand everyone’s dumb jokes; the show is so culturally engrained, even 16 years after it ended, that it is a near-social handicap not to have seen it. I had celebrated its holiday for years in ignorant bliss. It was time to learn.

So here is what I know about Festivus: It is from Seinfeld. It is two days before Christmas. Men love it, women love it, Fox News hates it, which makes it, officially, a real holiday. This is one of the hosts, decrying the event last year: ”I am so outraged by this. Why do I have to drive around with my kids to look for nativity scenes and be like, 'Oh, yeah, kids, look. There's Baby Jesus behind the Festivus pole made out of beer cans!" 

But the main thing I've learned about Festivus is that it seems entirely like too much work. There are four main components to make it a real Festivus: the Festivus pole, an aluminum stake that is completely unadorned, in opposition to holiday consumerism; the Festivus dinner, where no alcohol is served; the Airing of Grievances, where each person details how they’ve been disappointed by others that year, and Feats of Strength, where you fight each other. There’s also some stuff about Festivus miracles and the Human Fund, but the Wikipedia page ran way too long for me. That's too goddamned involved for a fake holiday. There's only one main component needed to make it Christmas, which is opening up a present in front of some foliage, and even that tuckers me out. 

All these years, I thought that Festivus was about putting on a $15 dollar dress from Forever 21 and sauntering down to the student center with a water bottle full of flavored Smirnoff, but I realized: it's about so much more than that. I haven't seen the Festivus episode yet, so I can't tell you exactly what "that" is, but I'm sure I'll find out someday. 

So if you’re anti-consumerism and pro-honesty this year, if you’ve got a pole and no decorations and are in the mood to wrestle someone to the floor, and, most importantly, you’ve got a ton of energy, have a happy, happy Festivus. But for the rest of us, who are maybe a little sleepier and never made it past the one where they go to the Chinese food restaurant, there’s always Christmas.