For holiday grumps, Seinfeld’s Festivus celebrated in Concord

  • Herb Cameron of Concord complains about slow highway drivers in the left lane during the airing of grievances segment of the Festivus celebration at Area 23 on Wednesday. The traditional aluminum pole is seen on the left. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • Owner Kirk McNeil (second from right) and Jim Whittemore (right) of Pelham sing during during an open mic segment of the Festivus celebration at Area 23 on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Published: 12/22/2016 8:14:00 PM

If you’re the type that associates this time of year with materialism and unpleasantness, maybe you’re looking for a different tradition.

Presents and cheer? Nope. You’ve got grievances and feats of strength.

At least, that’s what Frank Constanza, the notoriously cranky Seinfeld character, envisioned with Festivus, a parodic holiday-season gathering “for the rest of us.”

And, in real life, here in Concord, it’s what the celebrants of the fictitious holiday had Wednesday night at the pub Area 23.

Even the writer who introduced the world to Festivus is surprised to know that “actual human people adopted a weird TV holiday based on a crazy family tradition that bordered on child endangerment,” Seinfeld’s Daniel O’Keefe told USA Today last week.

(To its credit, Area 23 has eliminated one potentially child endangering bit. The traditional Constanza family father-son wrestling match that amounts to the “Feats of Strength” was replaced by stein-hoisting.)

But, as far as real people celebrating fake holidays, let’s face it: When ironically ugly sweaters became one of the most recognizable parts of Christmas, this was bound to happen.

Wednesday marked the second year that Area 23 hosted Festivus, which, rather than a traditional tree, instead features an unadorned aluminum pole, completely unremarkable except for its high strength-to-weight ratio. Before that, some of the same celebrants held the ritual privately at an employee’s house, pub owner Kirk McNeil said.

It’s not an abandonment of traditional religious holidays – although this pub does also host a church that places an unusual focus on sword fighting – but rather a complement to them, McNeil said.

“It’s a good way to have a little bit of fun with the time of year without getting too invested in anybody’s personal traditions,” he said.

By the time the “Airing of Grievances” began, Jim Whittemore of Pelham was ready to take to the microphone. In the 1997 Seinfeld episode, this is when the head of the Constanza household announced to his family members that he was about to tell them all the ways they’d disappointed him in the past year.

“Listen up, people,” Whittemore started, in a near echo of the actor Jerry Stiller. “Something’s really bothering me and I want everybody to know about it.”

He explained that his local plow driver on the first snowstorm of the year wiped out his neighbor’s mailbox and partially wrecked his. On the second snowstorm, he said, the driver came back and finished what he started.

“He took my box right off the post, the whole damn thing, and I’m pretty pissed about it,” Whittemore said.

“As a matter of fact, when I heard him coming back later, I stood by the side of the road and I gave him the salute,” he continued, showing the packed crowd at the pub the particular one-fingered gesture he was talking about. “The next day, there was a new post there, but I don’t like it.”

Hosted in the regular time slot of Area 23’s open mic night, these grievances were interspersed with music.

Herb Cameron, a Concord resident who scored a round of applause with his grievance, said he had a “public service announcement” about driving on New Hampshire’s two-lane highways.

In an effort to reduce road rage, he said he had a note for oblivious occupants of the left lane, who drive slowly even as they’re being passed in the vacant lane to their right.

“If at any time there’s no one ahead of you and there’s a mile of cars behind you, you’re in the wrong f---ing lane!” he said.

The “Feats of Strength” came later. Traditional stein-hoisting competitions can get serious – requiring participants to hold a beer-filled stein out with a straight arm for as long as possible – but McNeil admitted that things got “pretty silly by that point.”

Technically, Area 23 celebrated the Dec. 23 holiday early. But that means you can still whip together your own Festivus tonight, if you’re feeling more crotchety than cheerful.

Or just leave us your grievances in the comments online.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)

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