Friday, December 24, 2010

Festivus (a day late) A Holiday of Choice for People with Autism?

I was too busy celebrating Festivus yesterday (well, not really) but I got to thinking about this holiday made-up for a Seinfeld episode back in 1997, which has caught on as a type of "anti-what the holiday season  has become" holiday.  (yes, I understand that the family of a Seinfeld writer used to actually celebrate something like this, but I will date this from the Seinfeld episode "The Strike".) 

Its slogan is "Festivus: for the rest of us".  Its point is to enjoy the holidays without stress, without commercialism, without pressure.  Families of those with autism can appreciate that.

The holidays are so difficult for Bil and others like him:  as the Grinch would say "the Noise, the Noise, the noise noise noise noise".  The breaking of routine, too.  The lights, and the other bombardments of the senses, don't add to the enjoyment.  Many families with members having autism have to tone down the holiday.  Bil is older, and Christmas has become a type of routine for him now.  But for younger children, it is extremely stressful-for them and their families.

And who needs more holiday stress than is already out there.

But then, there is Festivus.

There are several elements to Festivus, if you are not familiar with the holiday.  First, the Festivus pole, unadorned unlike a Christmas Tree - but made of aluminum, for strength.

People with autism would appreciate the relative lack of sensory bombardment.  As for strength, they must show it every day of their lives.  As must their families.  Plain, unadored.  Wonderful symbolism.

At the Festivus dinner, there is a set ritual.  Again, perfect for those with autism.

First, is the Airing of Grievances.  Family members, one by one, tell the dinner participants how they have disappointed in the past year.  Oh, what families related to autism could tell in the Airing of Grievances:  not specifically for their families (but sometimes other family members deserve a mention in the Airing), but what each family member has gone through in the previous year, with mean-spirited people in public, with the school system (too many times), with the  government agencies set up to help them.  With being excluded, despite protective laws.  With embarrassing moments only other families touched by autism would understand.  They would air how they have to fight every minute of every day in the struggle for advocacy and also devote themselves to their jobs, their families, and their neurotypical children.  They would really like a break.

Then dinner.  Not a fancy dinner.  Meatloaf is the usual choice. That's good, too.  Plenty of symbolism there.  The dessert should be a Pepperidge Farm cake decorated with M&Ms.  Not so good there, we don't want the artificial coloring.

Wrapping up the dinner is the Feats of Strength, where someone wrestles the head of the family to the ground and pins them.  This is very symbolic, too, of the daily struggle.

There is one last element, the "Festivus Miracle". Unlike a true miracle, Festivus miracles tend not to have happy endings.  Families with autism can sometimes identify with that.

After I started to write this post, I wondered if anyone had linked Festivus to autism, and the answer is "yes".   But I disagree that Festivus has "nothing to do with autism".  I think it does. As goofy as the thought of celebrating a holiday created for "the rest of us" via a comedy show of the 90's is, it does offer a chance to step back from what "Secular Christmas" has become:  and remember that Christmas really isn't supposed to be a source of unhappiness and stress.

Happy belated Festivus.

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