Let’s get one thing straight.
Mark Nelson’s family still celebrates Christmas.
The traditional holiday remains a big deal among members of the Nelson clan.
If it wasn’t for that one year in 2005 when his mom wasn’t feeling so well, it’s likely the Nelsons would still be treating today pretty much like everyone else, by finishing up their Christmas shopping and getting all their last-minute Christmas preparations in order.
Because of that year when his mom was in the hospital and couldn’t be home for the actual holiday, the Nelsons, at the recommendation of Mark’s sister, started a new family tradition.
That year, they decided to set aside all the pressures and commercialism of Christmas and try something different.
For the first time in what is now an annual family tradition, the Nelson’s celebrated Festivus, the holiday “for the rest of us.”
“We said we’ll call it ‘Festivus’ just like Seinfeld,” Nelson recalled.
“We didn’t even have a pole,” he added.
As Nelson noted, his family’s annual Festivus celebration kind of took on a life of its own.
In a manner that would no doubt make Frank Costanza proud, the Nelsons now spend each Dec. 23 contemplating “Feats of Strength,” comparing the ordinary nature of their respective Festivus “miracles” and, of course, airing their grievances.
“We don’t air our grievances as much as we talk about airing our grievances,” joked Nelson.
Of course, they have their own aluminum Festivus Pole, manufactured by what’s considered to be “the world’s largest manufacturer and distributor” - The Wagner Companies of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Nelson expected 20 or so family members and friends to take part in this year’s Festivus celebration.
Wrestling, as always, is optional.
“A lot of us are too old and feeble to wrestle,” said the 55-year-old Nelson who works in Library Systems and Services at Red River College in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
What’s that? Never heard of Festivus?
For Seinfeld fans, it’s self-explanatory.
For everyone else, the holiday designed to escape from the commercial trappings of Christmas was created in 1966 by author Daniel O’Keefe. It entered into popular culture in a major way when “The Strike” episode of Seinfeld, which was co-written by O’Keefe’s son, Dan O’Keefe, aired for the first time on Dec. 18, 1997.
The annual celebration, as highlighted in the famous TV episode, includes a Festivus dinner, an unadorned aluminum Festivus pole, the traditional “Airing of Grievances” as well as “Feats of Strength” and Festivus “miracles.”
The inspiration for this column and my decision to reach out to Nelson for an interview came from whoever it was put up a Festivus pole - which has since been taken down - near Schoellkopf Park near Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center.
Whoever you are, well done.
I’m going to make a donation to the Human Fund on your behalf.
I found Nelson by searching “Festivus” on Google.
Turns out, he has become one of the top authorities on the subject, having created Festivusweb.com, a website that offers a rundown on the basics of the holiday as well as information on Festivus rules, gifts and songs, quotes from the famous “Seinfeld” episode and the chance to purchase Festivus swag.
He’s also the author of “Festivus! The Book,” described as a “humorous guide to the wackiest holiday introduced to modern society.”
The book, which has been endorsed by O’Keefe’s son and Seinfeld writer, Dan O’Keefe, is, of course, “tinsel free.”
Too distracting otherwise.
You can buy a copy of the book and found out more fun facts about Festivus by visiting Nelson’s website which, as you can imagine, gets a lot of traffic from fans of the 1990s television comedy, arguably the greatest of all time.
“I find there’s a lot of Seinfeld fans in the world,” Nelson said. “If they all got together, it would be scary.”
As regular readers, my weekly column often derives part of its inspiration from the eloquent words of Frank Costanza who once famously said: “I got a lotta problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it!”
In honor of the holiday “for the rest of us,” I’m offering a Sunday column special for the rest of you.
In the spirit of Festivus, I’m giving readers the chance to do any of the following:
• Air your Grievances. Got an issue? Have something you need to get off your chest? Well, go ahead. Please keep it clean and try not to be nasty.
• Celebrate Feats of Strength. Have you done something extraordinary lately? Do you know someone who has? Again, send them along to me. We want to hear about your wondrous feats.
• Share Festivus Miracles. Did something extra mundane happen to you this year? If so, send along anything ordinary.
I will publish any publishable responses at a later date.
In the meantime, “Happy Festivus, Georgie” and may others find your individual belief systems “fascinating.”
Mark Scheer is the regional news director for the Niagara Gazette and Lockport Union-Sun & Journal newspapers, a supporter of Santa Claus and an advocate for pretty much all things involving actual or made-up holidays or celebrations, including Festivus. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 716-282-2311, ext. 2250.