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Add some bitterness to that holiday cheer

Allen Salkin and Jerry Stiller, authors of “Festivus,”  say ’tis the season to air grievances and take Frosty behind the woodshed. Here’s an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

The sight of the Christmas tree in the plaza can only equate to one thing — it's beginning to look a lot like Festivus! This celebration is for those looking to add a little bitterness to their holiday season. Many think it was first introduced by Frank Costanza on "Seinfeld," however, the celebration actually dates back to ancient Rome. Allen Salkin and Jerry Stiller, authors of “Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us,” were invited on the “Today” show to discuss the Yuletide holiday. Here’s an excerpt from the book:

Foreword by Jerry StillerIn the ancient days when gods played their own games, and had their own celebrations, tossing lightning bolts between mountaintops, hurling great boulders — Festivus came out of that. It's a holiday that celebrates being alive at a time when it was hard to be alive.

There was no Christ yet, no Yahweh, no Buddha. There were great ruins and raw nature. But there was a kindling spark of hope among men. They celebrated that great thunderous storms hadn't enveloped them in the past year, that landslides hadn't destroyed them. They made wishes that their crops would grow in the fields, that they'd have food the next year and the wild animals wouldn't attack and eat them.

There's something pure about Festivus, something primal, raw in the hearts of humans.

And then there is the idea of an aluminum pole, the centerpiece of the modern celebration of Festivus. Airplanes are made out of aluminum to take you through life from one place to another — in one piece, usually. Aluminum is a type of metal that can say so much if something is done to it, like turning it into an airplane.

But there's nothing to an aluminum pole. It has no feeling. It says, "I am what I am." You endow the aluminum pole with whatever you want to. It leaves you open to explore your own meaning. It is lightweight stuff, but in the form of an airplane it gets you from one part of the world to the next. Remember that.

And one more thing on aluminum. You don't want to put too many m's into it. "Aluminum" is easy to say, but don't think too much before you say it out loud. If you think too much about how you say it before you say it, you'll screw it up.

So with these sparks of godly and individual human imagination flying, I say this: A Festivus miracle to me would be not having to give anybody a gift during the time of year we call "the holidays," and not feeling like I've shortchanged anyone or hurt their feelings. The other end of the miracle would be that if I didn't get a gift from someone I expected it from, I wouldn't think, "Why didn't they remember me?" Nope. Just wipe the slate clean.

I mean, most of the time when you get a gift, you have to prove to the gift-giver how much you loved what they gave you. It takes a toll on you. I receive letters sometimes from people describing every little thing about the gifts I've sent to them. I don't even remember what I sent! These people should have more in their lives.

Which brings me to wrestling, another centerpiece of Festivus, the feats of strength. Wrestling is raw, primal. With my own son, I used to tumble around. He always used to come out on top for some reason. He was very agile. I let him win, of course.

Snails are primal, too. It's no coincidence there is a snail called Festivus. The snail is the ocean. Earth, wind, fire, water, the essential elements. For Festivus, make it: earth, wind, fire, and snails.

That's why if I'm to air my grievances here, I say: Let's cut this holidays thing. Let's cut it down to the bare minimum.

I am not alone in feeling this way, but very few people will actually say it out loud. Then these things like Festivus come along. Something that makes its way onto a sketch on Seinfeld or Saturday Night Live or another show like that, it comes out of something that's in the air. It resonates and people run with it.

For some people the revelation comes too late that life is best kept to the essentials. Some people are given their last rites and that person might say in their last breath, "I should have celebrated Festivus."

Look, I'm not trying to be an anticonsumer Jerry the Curmudgeon here. I'm a Gucci man, a Prada man, myself. I buy gifts from these stores. People have a right to purchase things if they want to.

All I'm saying is, if you celebrate Festivus, you may live a little longer.

You are getting back to the essentials, to the days of gods on mountaintops and howling wolves. Because you are saying the holidays are in the heart, a celebration of being alive with our fellow humans. For that purpose, an aluminum pole will do just as well as anything else — as long as it's not stuck in the wrong place.

Excerpted from “Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us,” by Allen Salkin with foreword by Jerry Stiller. Copyright ©2005 by Allen Salkin and Jerry Stiller. Published by Warner Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.