Thursday, December 23, 2010

Festivus for the Rest of Us: A Holiday Tale Retold

[Note: Below is an edited version of the story of my first Festivus in 2007. - RTR]

I spoke with Joanie early yesterday and she graciously wished me and Ruth a happy winter solstice. Her kind sentiments were greatly appreciated and I sincerely wished her the same. You see, Joanie is one of my friends who celebrates the winter solstice, while other friends spent their Decembers celebrating Christmas or Kwanzaa or Hanukkah.

Christmas is still at the forefront in our home. In fact, I was scheduled to have a Christmas holiday dinner with Ruth, her sister, and my brother-in-law. It was one of those once-a-year dinners with the in-laws at the Outback restaurant. Also, the next day, December 23rd, we were scheduled for a family gathering with the Rico clan, including my siblings from out-of-state arriving for the Christmas holiday. No matter how you slice it, these family holiday gatherings are always full of surprises.

Later in the day, in an odd turn of events, I learned from Ruth that this evening being December 22nd made it “Festivus Eve.” She casually explained that “Festivus for the Rest of Us” was the newest, somewhat-backhanded holiday celebration in direct opposition to the gross over-commercialization of Christmas by the dominant Christian society. (Which begs the question, What Would Jesus Buy?)

This was the first I ever heard of Festivus.

To my astonishment, Ruth told me of Festivus, a holiday in which the day – December 23rd – is celebrated by the “airing of grievances,” or sharing with your family and friends all the ways they have let you down or disappointed you during the year. A bare, unadorned aluminum pole is the symbol of Festivus. Ruth had me at “grievances.” I was sold. Sign me up for the Festivus holiday.

In a real kicker, Ruth explained Festivus was hatched during an episode of “Seinfeld” – season 9, Episode 10, to be exact. The holiday was concocted and described as a joke thread throughout the episode. This, in my view, should solidify it as a December holiday.

Festivus Eve Dinner

By the time I learned about Festivus, it was too late to rent and watch the Seinfeld episode. Instead, we scrambled to get spiffed up and head to the Outback.

Even though I was barely into the Festivus spirit, dinner ended up being an airing of grievances. My brother-in-law was highly agitated by the fact that he could not watch MSU sports on TV because of the dispute between the Big Ten Channel and the cable TV companies. Damn it, he was no longer going to send MSU anymore donations as result. He fully blamed MSU for the “blackout” situation.

Now, I spend most of my waking hours during the year worrying about war, peace, a lying president, torture, secret prisons, destroyed CIA tapes, etc. Still, I’m like Marky Mark from Downtown, I have opinions on almost everything, especially sports issues. In this case, I was not backing the multi-billion dollar cable TV industry over the multi-million dollar college sports industry. I spoke up and absolved MSU of responsibility for the TV dispute. My brother-in-law flashed an angry Christmas temper with a rock-sold, “You’re full of sh*t!”

I explained my rationale further. He doubled his emphasis in the crowded restaurant, “YOUR’RE FULL OF SH*T!!” At that point, I reciprocated with my own Festivus greetings and barked back “You’re full of sh*t!” I looked at Ruth and she looked that me. A new holiday had been christened.

After the Festivus greetings were diffused by a quick change of subject, I did not say much else during the dinner. My brother-in-law is an 80-something WWII Navy vet, so I resisted telling him all about my work with the anti-war movement. It potentially could have turned into the Tiger Stadium centerfield bleachers all over again – one side yelling “Eat Sh*t!” and the other side yelling “F*ck You!” back-and-forth in a perverse version of the old Miller Lite commercial. Instead, I kept my mouth shut.

On the way home, Ruth and I ended up renting the Seinfeld Season 9, Episode 10. It was best $1 we spent all Christmas season.

My First Festivus Day

Before heading to Fowerville to meet the Rico clan on Sunday, I ran into Everybody Reads Bookstore to grab the Sunday NY Times. Deb behind the counter informed me there was no Sunday Times waiting for me; the distributor shorted me again.

Oh, well.

What could I do? I wished her a Happy Festivus Day -- and she cracked up! Deb and Chris had rented Seinfeld, Season 9, Episode 10, the night before. What a hoot!

Ruth and I arrived at my niece’s home in Fowlerville, only to discover a full power outage in the neighborhood. My niece had a house full of guests and the expectation of Christmas entertaining. In a stellar example improvisation, food was being cooked and warmed in the garage on the summer gas grill. We ended having a good chuckle about the year's happenings, the food turned out great, and nobody told me I was “full of sh*t.” Still, I asked everyone at the table, “Did you know today is Festivus Day?” My nephew from Texas looked over and said, “Where’s your aluminum pole?”

I’m on to something here.

-- Rico Thomas Rico

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