Toddler-friendly Festivus poles

I got it in my head to build a Festivus pole.

(Festivus is a non-religious holiday first celebrated on December 23, 1966 in response to runaway Christmas commercialism. It was later popularized by an episode of the Seinfeld TV sitcom.)

Photo of an 8-foot-tall clear plastic pole filled with ping pong balls and held upright with X-shaped PVC pipe. The pole is seen from the top looking down.A strict interpretation of the holiday requires a plain aluminum Festivus pole. A metal pole seemed a tipping danger with a rambunctious toddler in the house so I visited a hardware store to scope out alternatives.

PVC pipe was immediately attractive. I began seeing possibilities in decorating the pole – tied ribbons, hooks drilled into the pole to hang ornaments, and maybe even Little Miss painting the pole in a few years. Festivus fundamentalists would have my head.

Not quite satisfied, I mulled over my options for a few days until I stumbled upon a newly stocked item at a restaurant supply store. It would make a great lightweight toddler-friendly Festivus pole. (By the way, when you shop at the same food and accessories store as restaurateurs, eating at home is like eating out, every night.)

Photo of four and eight feet tall Festivus poles filled with ping pong balls, with an indoor ladder included for scale
Pole #1:
I used an 8-foot-long fluorescent tube guard as a pole. It is a clear plastic tube designed to protect a shattered fluorescent light from raining glass down upon you (other tubes filter or tint light or improve efficiency).  I’ve never seen an 8-foot long fluorescent light, but apparently they exist. At less than $3, the tube is a steal.

A thought soon crept into my mind: this tube is just wide enough to fit a ping pong ball. And, the sight of a bunch of ping pong balls balanced vertically from floor to ceiling would be damn impressive. Sixty-three balls to be exact.

It helps to use a ladder to insert the balls, and helps even more if you have a vaulted ceiling because many ceilings are not much more than 8 feet high.

K-Mart sells the balls at 36 per box, but Wishing Well stores sell plain balls with no manufacturer logo or lettering for 19 cents a piece, roughly $12 for one pole.

Initially, I planted the pole in a Christmas tree stand, having gotten the idea from a photo at The tree-fastening screws do an OK job of securing the tube so long as the tube is filled with balls. A stand costs $10 at K-Mart this month, or peanuts at a thrift store or garage sale.

However, it wasn’t too long before I ditched the tree stand in favor of sturdy (non-plumbing) PVC pipe. My local Ace hardware has a PVC Store display which is kind of like PVC for Dummies. There are an assortment of joints to choose from and even a booklet containing a plethora of PVC craft ideas. I bought one length of pipe, four end caps and one five-point joint, plus a PVC saw (though a regular hack saw works, too).  A mess of PVC shavings later, I had a spiffy "X" shaped pole stand.

In our house, in our non-vaulted living room, the 8-foot pole on top of the PVC stand is just milimeters away from the ceiling, giving the appearance of a true floor-to-ceiling pole.

A four foot tall Festivus pole comprised of seven poles, three visible, filled with ping pong balls and held upright with a plastic Christmas tree stand
Pole #2:
After building my first Festivus pole, I had an empty Christmas tree stand in my house. So, I bought seven 4-foot fluorescent tube guards and propped them in the tree stand in a sort of circle, bound at the top and bottom with rubber bands. 

Seven tubes works out to 224 ping pong balls, about $43. I didn’t quite achieve that number because Wishing Well only had 93 undented balls for sale and it was a six hour trek to the store. (I was in town visiting family).

From a distance, you see three of the poles side-by-side, a decently impressive thickness for my wide tree stand.

Little Miss hasn’t tried to push or topple either of the Festivus poles, but I’m not overly worried if she does. My poles don’t have caps, so it would make quite a mess, but also be a lot of fun. Check out this tube close-up photo.

Contradictory thoughts: I built the poles, but am not celebrating Festivus. The holiday appeals to me because I despise the excessive materialism of Christmas. However, the Festivus pole explicitly represents nothing. I want our pole to represent something.

I am brewing some ideas for a family holiday which will incorporate our Festivus poles and their ping pong ball components.

Maybe have a day of family games and each time you win a game, one
of your specially-marked balls goes into the pole. I guess we would
have to call it the Day of Sixty-Three Games.

Maybe hand-decorate the balls for display as a family activity, just
like coloring Easter eggs or decorating a Christmas tree. Then we buy a
ping pong table to play with the previous year’s decorated balls. (Update: Sadly, you cannot dye ping pong balls. They get slightly tinted and every imperfection on the surface gets magnified.)


I’ll write more after my brain has had a chance to percolate.

Also see:


One Response to “Toddler-friendly Festivus poles”

  1. Heather says:

    Happy Festivus. There is a great video at The site is great for those of you who do not know what Festivus is. Let the airing of grievances begin.

    Happy Festivus!

    December 23rd, 2006 at 12:52 am