There are sparkly decorations everywhere, peppermint mochas are appearing at the coffee shop, and your mailbox is crammed with ads for door-buster sales. Yep, it’s the season for the gift-giving celebrations of Christmas and Hanukkah! But you don’t have to belong to any religion to have some fun this season. Here are a few cultural holidays that anyone can enjoy, along with television series to watch for hours on end while you’re off from work and school.
Way back in December of 1997, millions of Seinfeld fans tuned in to watch the episode “The Strike” and were introduced to Festivus, a made-up holiday celebrated by Frank Costanza as a rebellion against the commercialism of Christmas. Fast forward to the present, and lots of people have taken to celebrating Festivus in their homes, dorms, and workplaces. The common rituals of Festivus are as follows:
1) Displaying the Festivus Pole – an unadorned aluminum pole. (You can actually buy these online!)
2) A celebratory Dinner – make anything you like, as long as it’s celebratory.
3) Airing of Grievances – this takes place immediately after dinner is served. Participants take turns complaining about how everyone has disappointed them in the past year.
4) Feats of Strength – after dinner, the head of the household selects a person to challenge to a wrestling match. Festivus officially ends when the head of the household is pinned.
Fun fact: Festivus actually goes back to 1966 when Seinfeld writer Dan O’Keefe’s father first instituted the tradition to celebrate an anniversary, and the family continued to celebrate it whenever Papa O’Keefe felt like it. Instead of an aluminum pole they had a clock in a bag, and they shared a Pepperidge Farm cake decorated with M&Ms
Binge Watch: Seinfeld. What else?
Maybe you’ve seen Boxing Day on your wall calendar and had no idea what it was. Let’s Return Unwanted Gifts Day? A fisticuffs tournament over the last piece of pie? Nope! It’s a holiday in Great Britain and almost every place the British settled, except for the U.S. Nobody is sure where the name originated, though some believe it comes from the alms boxes set up in churches during the Advent season (which were then broken open and distributed on the 26th), or from the gift boxes presented to servants who had to work on Christmas but had the following day off.
Whatever purpose it once had, Boxing Day is now a relaxing day off to visit relatives, sit around and eat leftovers, and watch soccer. Among the wealthy, fox hunting used to be a popular Boxing Day activity before the practice was banned in 2004. Those with disposable income now hunt for bargains instead – it has become a huge shopping day, comparable to our Black Friday.
Binge Watch: If you’re not going to tune in to one of 10 Premier League games, pick up a Blu-Ray of The Paradise, a BBC series following a shop girl in Britain’s first department store.
December 26-January 1
Born out of the Black nationalist movement, Kwanzaa is a relatively young holiday, created in 1966 by Black Studies professor and activist Maulana Karenga as a way for African American to celebrate their heritage and connect to their community. It fuses elements from numerous African cultures – the term Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase “matunda ya Kwanza” or “first fruits of the harvest,” and draws from the harvest celebrations of the Ashanti, Yoruba, Ibo, and other West African tribes (from which most African Americans have descended). There’s feasting and singing, of course, but the most important part of Kwanzaa is celebration of the seven principles – things like creativity and self-determination – that are represented by lighting one candle each night of the holiday.
Kwanzaa reached its height in the 1980s and 1990s, and about 2% of the U.S. population celebrates the holiday today. However, Americans of any heritage can set out a kinara on the mantle and celebrate our country’s diverse history.
Binge Watch: Roots, Alex Haley’s award-winning exploration of his family’s background.
Which holidays are you celebrating this year?