On Dec. 18, 1997, during an episode of "Seinfeld," "Festivus" was born. Or was it? Perhaps the whole idea of a secular holiday marking the winter solstice is much older than any "Seinfeld" episode. Today, the "holiday" is meant to offer a chance for folks fed up with the rampant commercialism of the season, and perhaps a bit flustered by the religious aspects of the whole thing, to celebrate in a secular fashion. Pagan ritual? Or just good fun? Both, maybe?
At any rate, it was indeed "Seinfeld" that introduced the idea to the mainstream, and a certain aspect of that mainstream has run with it ever since. As outlined by a rather hilarious exchange between Jerry, George and Elaine during this now-fabled episode, Festivus is centered around a gathering of family and friends, and subsequently, a ritualistic "Airing of Grievances," followed by a post-meal "Feats of Strength" contest, wherein the head of the household is wrestled to the floor, the holiday ending only when said patriarch or matriarch has been pinned to the floor. In lieu of a Christmas tree or Menorah, a naked aluminum pole might sit in the corner of the living room, perhaps with presents laid out beneath it, perhaps not.
Of course, this entire notion is offensive to some, sacrilegious to others. But the very slogan associated with the make-believe holiday -- "Festivus, for the rest of us!" -- is suffused with a delectable irreverence that is befitting a country born in the very act of fleeing religious persecution. Bearing that in mind, it seems only proper for Festivus to be afforded its own soundtrack -- a playlist for the rest of us, if you will. If you've been Michael Buble'd and Mariah Carey'd and "White Christmas'd" to near-death by this point, worry no more, fellow traveler -- you, too, can spike the eggnog and crank the stereo, rejoicing in the age-old notion of rebirth, new beginnings, and the rituals that mark them.
So you've had your meal, loosened the belt and finished your first glass of wine. Let the games begin! It's time for the "Airing of Grievances" -- a chance for you to let your family and close friends know all of the ways in which they've let you down over the past year. While you're cleaning the slate, tossing boulders through the door of your own glass house, why not give these tunes a spin?
*"Positively 4th Street"
The Bob Dylan original version is best, though the Jerry Garcia/Merle Saunders "Keystone" take is less snarky and more heartbreaking, so it will do if you're feeling particularly (melo)dramatic. It's the lyrics that matter, of course. "You've got a lotta nerve to say you are my friend/When I was down, you just stood there grinning/You've got a lotta nerve to say you've got a helpin' hand to lend/You just want to be on the side that's winnin'," sings cranky Bob. And c'mon -- who hasn't felt this? I'm starting to feel better already!
A fantastic tune from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, although one is well-advised to proceed with caution -- a song this nasty just might end in divorce! Or at least a few weeks of the cold shoulder. Sings Petty, "Well, you just got tired, you just gave in/You took it hard, then you just quit/You let me down, you dropped the ball/You fell on your face, most of all." Doh!
This is a vicious Soundgarden tune, and it should not be directed toward a family member or friend. Rather, aim it at some "authority figure" who has kept you down over the past year. A boss. A politician. A Wall Street suit. Whatever. "Hello, don't you know me?" sings Chris Cornell. "I'm the dirt beneath your feet/The most important fool you forgot to see/I've seen how you give it, and now I want you to receive/I'm sure that you would do the same for me."
Ahhhh. Feel the cool, purging sensation? Let it go!
So you've had your collective catharsis. It's time for the "Feats of Strength"! At my house, this is a normal occurrence. My own little Oedipus is always trying to take me out of the picture, an action normally prefaced with something like, "OK, that's it, Dad, you're going down!" followed by the tallest 11-year-old in history wrestling me face-first into the couch. Time was, I let him win. These days, he doesn't need my help. I have no choice but to call on Dylan once again for the soundtrack to this cross-generational humiliation.
*"The Times They Are A-Changin' "
"Come mothers and fathers throughout the land/And don't criticize what you can't understand/Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command/Your old road is rapidly aging/So get out of the new one if you can't lend a hand." Double Doh!
OK, you've made it. Now for some healing.
*Gather in the family space, and crank "Ritual: Nous Sommes Du Soleil" by Yes. This brilliant bit of hippy-dippy philosophizing will cover you and your loved ones in the soothing balm of abstraction, which feels an awful lot like forgiveness, no? "Nous Sommes Du Soleil" can be loosely translated as "We are of the sun," and like any good slab of poetic Paganism, it suggests a unification of man and nature, and thereby, the cycle of death and rebirth, which is really what we celebrate at this time of year, regardless of our chosen religion or lack thereof.
Ye have been healed! You're welcome! Now grab your coat and head to Nietzsche's (248 Allen St.) for two sets of Peanut Brittle Satellite, offering its own "Festivus Party" at 10 this very evening.