Kathy Posner's Chicago Christmas Tree

Once Labor Day passes and school resumes, children’s thoughts turn quickly to their next long vacation -- the winter holiday break. The December holidays mean different things to varied religious groups, so we’re supposed to be politically correct and say, “Happy Holidays,” and not delineate to which holiday they are referring. The City of Chicago does not worry about offending anyone and makes a big hoopla about the Christmas tree that is erected at Daley Plaza. In fact, it was September 7th, just two days post Labor Day, when the City issued a press release about their search for a perfect tree.

The press release said, “The City of Chicago is looking for the perfect tree to grace Daley Plaza this holiday season and serve as the City’s Official Christmas tree. Beginning September 7 through September 30, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events will accept tree nominations for this year’s tree in Daley Plaza.” The release also said, “Chicagoans will be able to vote on the three finalists beginning October 17 through October 25 on the Chicago Sun-Times website at www.suntimes.com.”

So voting will open in just a few days, but I wonder how they will know that ONLY Chicagoans will vote? Even if the web site link requires an address, anybody (even my blog readers in Ireland) could click on the link and use any random Chicago address, if it is even required. But illegal voting in Chicago is a story for another blog.

There are strict criteria for what kind of tree the City will accept as a gift. The tree must be donated but the city pays The Brickman Groupto cut it down and haul it away.

• Trees must be at least 55 feet or taller;

• Spruce or Fir Trees are best. Pine trees are ineligible because they are not sturdy enough;

• Please include a brief description of why your tree should be Chicago’s Official Christmas Tree and include any background information on the tree;

• All submissions must include 3 photographs (1 from afar and 2 up close) or the tree will not be considered;

• Tree must be located within 100 miles from Chicago’s Loop

I called Mary May, the Chicago employee listed as contact on the press release, and asked how many people had nominated a tree to be considered. She would not tell me how many entries there were, but by the tone of her voice when she told me that there are not a lot of trees of that size around, I don’t think there is going to be much competition in the contest.

So what if Chicago does not get an appropriate tree? A Festivus pole is the answer! For the sitcom-challenged, Festivus is the holiday that Frank Costanza created on The Seinfeld Show. It’s celebrated on December 23rd.

The “official” Festivus website explains the holiday and its traditions.

The Festivus Pole: The Costanzas' tradition begins with an aluminum pole, which Frank praises for its "very high strength-to-weight ratio." During Festivus, the unadorned Festivus Pole is displayed. The pole was chosen apparently in opposition to the commercialization of highly decorated Christmas trees, because it is "very low-maintenance," and also because the holiday's patron, Frank Costanza, "find[s] tinsel distracting."

The Airing of Grievances: At the beginning of the Festivus dinner, each participant tells friends and family of all the instances where they disappointed him or her that year. As quoted from Frank Costanza: "I've got a lot of problems with you people, and now you're going to hear about it!"

Festivus dinner: In "The Strike," a celebratory dinner is shown on the evening of Festivus prior to the Feats of Strength. The on-air meal appeared to be meat loaf or spaghetti in a red sauce. In Festivus: The Holiday for the Rest of Us, by Allen Salkin, drinking is encouraged with hearty beer, rum, bourbon, or wine. In the episode, no alcohol was served, but George Costanza's boss, Mr. Kruger, drank from a flask.

The Feats of Strength: After the dinner, the head of the family tests his or her strength against one participant of the head's choosing. Festivus is not considered over until the head of the family has been pinned to the ground. A participant is allowed to decline to attempt to pin the head of the family only if they have something better to do instead.

Think of all the money the city will save in transporting and decorating a tree if instead, it opts for a plain Festivus aluminum pole. Because there are no religious connotations surrounding the holiday, no one should be offended if this December you cry out, “Festivus for the rest of us!” as you dance around the pole. I am cooking this year, you are all invited. But beware the Feats of Strength. I may choose YOU.

James Edstrom's Note: You can always count on some good holiday cheer from Chicago's Kathy Posner!