Milwaukee — Remember the wacky "Seinfeld" holiday season episode when the character Frank Costanza protests the commercialization of Christmas by putting up an unadorned aluminum pole instead of a tree?
The practice is actually catching on. More Americans are now celebrating Festivus, the holiday popularized in the 1997 episode of the hit television comedy. Called "Festivus for the rest of us," the holiday celebrated by the Costanza clan on Dec. 23 features an airing of grievances and feats of strength in which a guest must wrestle and pin the host before the party ends.
As with any holiday, even one that celebrates anti-commercialism, there is money to be made. The Wagner Cos., a maker of hand-railing components, is bringing back the line of Festivus poles it launched last year on a whim.
"We did it mainly as a lark. We never looked at it as a tremendous moneymaking scheme," said Tony Leto, the firm's executive vice president of sales and marketing. "But in many ways, Festivus is taking on a life of its own."
Wagner offers a 6-foot Festivus pole for $38 and a 32-inch tabletop model for $30. Wagner sold about 250 poles in 2005, with about 100 sales coming from the firm's 120 employees. This season, it sold about 300 poles by mid-December and was on pace to sell twice that number by today, said Leto, who once shared a drama class with Jerry Seinfeld in New York.
Leto credits bloggers with strong "Seinfeld" loyalties for spreading the news far and wide.
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, a "Seinfeld" fanatic who claims to have seen every episode eight times, proudly displayed one of the company's poles last year at the governor's mansion. But Doyle said he will donate the pole to the Wisconsin Historical Museum after reports that "Seinfeld" co-star Michael Richards used racial slurs during a standup comedy routine last month in Los Angeles.
Leto said he hoped the Richards incident would not affect his company's sales.
"Fans know it was a Costanza holiday, not a Kramer holiday," he said, referring to characters played by Jerry Stiller and Richards. "Anyway, Kramer eventually rejects the holiday at the end of the episode."
The "Seinfeld" Festivus episode developed from series writer Dan O'Keefe's childhood experiences. His father invented the holiday in the 1960s.
"As a kid, we'd come home and there'd be weird decorations," said the 30-something O'Keefe. "There was the playing of strange German and Italian pop music from the '50s. And the airing of grievances was a real thing."
Instead of a pole, his family celebration featured a clock and a bag. (O'Keefe said his father will not say what they symbolized.)
Leto acknowledged the irony of making money off a holiday that celebrates anti-commercialism. But the company is having too much fun with the holiday to stop now, he said.
"It sounds to me like they're making a good living - good for them," O'Keefe said. "It's just this joke holiday on a TV show. If they want to make a buck on it, go for it."
Or, as Seinfeld might say, not that there's anything wrong with that.