Explaining Festivus to the rest of us

I'm surprised we haven't seen more coverage of Festivus, which is something of a countercultural tradition in more ironic circles. It was the holiday that became famous after it was written into a Seinfeld episode. Thirteen years ago, believe it or not. And yet we have a Festivus miracle, it seems. Festivus is back in the news and has morphed from a single holiday celebrated on December 23 into a religion with at least one adherent. Here's the Associated Press report:

A convicted drug dealer in California ... cited his adherence to the holiday celebrated on a famous episode of "Seinfeld" to get better meals at the Orange County jail.

The Orange County Register reported Monday that Malcolm Alarmo King disliked the salami meals served at the jail, so he used his devotion to Festivus as a reason to get kosher meals reserved for inmates with religious needs.

Keeping kosher is not one of the tenets of Festivus, which was depicted on "Seinfeld" as celebrated with the airing of grievances and the display of an aluminum pole.

And that's pretty much the story. An additional line says that King got salami-free meals for two months before the county was able to overturn a ruling on the meals.

The reader who sent this story said he might love this story if it had any details in it. He began listing his questions:

On what grounds was the original (court?) order for kosher meals issued? Where did the inmate get the idea that keeping kosher is part of Festivus? Did the jail authorities also object to the Feats of Strength and Displaying of the Aluminum Pole? What are the names and numbers of the court cases? What were the names of the judges? What was the reasoning behind their decisions? How do their decisions comply or not comply with higher court decisions? What is the Seinfield episode air-date, title, and number?

The AP story was taken from the Orange County Register report, headlined "Inmateeats better due to wacky holiday" (sic). The number one question I had when I heard about the story was how a one-day sitcom holiday could be used as religious grounds for ongoing dietary restrictions. The lede at least acknowledges the oddity:

Festivus may only come around once a year -- more often if you watch "Seinfeld" reruns -- but longtime county inmate Malcolm Alarmo King was able to celebrate it three times a day while locked up at the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange.

King's quest for a more healthful eating option while behind bars ended with a county lawyer forced to research the origin of Festivus and its traditions and a Superior Court judge recognizing the holiday - which lodged its place in pop culture in a "Seinfeld" episode - as a legitimate religion.

It answers some of the readers questions about the original court order, the names of the judges and their reasoning, such as it was. And it gives a background on Festivus along with all the details noting that even the inmate's lawyer acknowledges that the Festivus religious claim was a farce. I even learned that a "Festivus miracle" is an easily explained event!

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