Popularized by the ’90s sitcom Seinfeld, Festivus is a made-up holiday that combats the commercialism and stress of the Christmas season with absurd traditions such as an airing of grievances, feats of strength and a Festivus pole in place of a tree.
Valley residents can observe these seasonal customs with a local twist at the ninth annual Phoestivus celebration from 5 to 10 p.m. Thursdays December 13 and December 20 at Phoenix Public Market’s Open Air Market. The event will also feature locally grown and produced goods from more than 150 vendors and jewelry, art and decorations handcrafted by local artisans.
The celebration is also inspired by traditional German Christmas markets, or Weihnachtsmarkt, which Phoestivus founder Ken Clark fondly recalls from his childhood.
“My family was stationed in Germany. I was a military brat and I got to experience the German Christmas markets, which are an absolute treasure,” Clark says. “The sights and sounds and the smell of mulled wine and bread and all these great gifts in this crisp, cold air, it’s just an amazing thing.”
Clark brought the tradition to Downtown Phoenix one night nine years ago with 20 vendors and a few food trucks. The event has gotten bigger every year.
“I want to expand a little bit every year. I’m not trying to shoot for the moon but in the end, I want this to be here 30 years from now. Just like with the German holiday markets, I want people to think, ‘Oh, they’ve always been here,’” he says.
“It just creates this wonderful tradition — everybody comes out and there’s a sense of community. We’re going to do it our own way and call it our own thing and have our own silly games and traditions. People won’t even know what Seinfeld is 30 years from now, but they’ll be like, ‘Yeah! Whatever, they’ve got a Festivus pole. I don’t know why, but they’ve got it.’ I’m down for that. I love the idea of starting a tradition.”
Proceeds from events at the Open Air Market go to Community Food Connections, a local nonprofit that supports small farmers and sustainable food systems.
“The tone of the whole thing is silly and absurd but in the end it’s a fundraiser because we fundamentally believe you’ve got to find a way to get more locally sourced food in the mouths of people,” Clark says. “(We want to) support local businesses but also try and encourage people to eat differently.”
This year, Phoestivus is collaborating with the International Rescue Committee and spotlighting businesses started by refugees. In addition to expanding its footprint, Phoestivus aims to diversify its offerings.
“We’re really going for that diversity. We’re getting food from different parts of the world. To me, that’s the spirit of what this should be about,” Clark says.
That spirit also includes an airing of grievances from the Phoenix Storytellers Project, a revamped Phoestivus pole and Phoenix Ale Brewery’s annual Phoestivus Ale, which Clark says is a festive spiced brown ale with hints of nutmeg. “It’s not the kind of beer you would drink in the summer, that’s for sure,” he says with a laugh.
Phoestivus will also offer photo ops with the famous Phoestivus yeti and hipster Santa. In the weeks leading up to the event, they will post photos of the yeti at local businesses on social media.
“Our mascot is a big abominable snowman, which is perfectly absurd because we don’t have snow in Phoenix,” Clark says. “People get excited about it because they start seeing the yeti at local bars. One of our sponsors is an optometrist and (the yeti) is in there getting his eye exam, which is great because he has these big googly eyes.”
Clark, who is an elected state representative, says Phoestivus is his legacy of sorts.
“I’m just finishing up my term. At the end of December, I’ll be a washed-up politician,” he jokes. “But what I really love is the feeling that of all the years I’ve been in office, I may have not done anything as significant there as I have making the Phoestivus market and that’s OK with me. Phoestivus is a wonderful event that makes everybody feel really, really good and people talk about it the whole year.”
Phoestivus gives attendees the opportunity to shop for one-of-a-kind gifts from local vendors like Clay Madness, Arizona Mantel Works, Lotus & Lava and Strawberry Hedgehog. Clark insists it’s “not just a bunch of wind chimes and dreamcatchers.”
“The idea is that people get to really explore that sense of community. We want to create our own sense of space and our own sense of identity and that’s a very fulfilling thing,” he explains. “It still has kind of a quaint feel to it where you get to say hi to all your friends that you run into there. That’s kind of the spirit of the season.”
Phoestivus, Phoenix Public Market’s Open Air Market, 721 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, 602.625.6736, phoestivus.com, 5 to 10 p.m. Thursdays December 13 and December 20, free admission and parking.