David Sedaris Reads From His 'Santaland Diaries'

Dec 24, 2012
Originally published on December 24, 2012 6:30 am

You might not expect "Santa's Helper" to be a career-altering gig, but for David Sedaris, it changed everything. The writer and humorist spent a season working at Macy's as a department store elf. He described his short tenure as Crumpet the Elf in "The Santaland Diaries," an essay that he read on Morning Edition in 1992.

Instantly, a classic was born. Sedaris' reading has become an NPR holiday tradition. Click the "Listen" link above to hear Sedaris read his tale.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Kind of hard to believe but it's been 20 years since we first met Crumpet the Elf. Crumpet is the alter-ego of writer and humorist David Sedaris. In 1992, right here on MORNING EDITION, Sedaris read excerpts from his "Santaland Diaries," an unusual Christmastime story told from the perspective of a Macy's Department Store elf. That essay helped launch David Sedaris' career as a playwright and humorist.

It was also the beginning of a MORNING EDITION holiday tradition. So here, once again, let's have it: David Sedaris as Crumpet the Elf.

DAVID SEDARIS: I wear green velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock and a perky little hat decorated with spangles. This is my work uniform.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SEDARIS: I've spent the last several days sitting in a crowded, windowless Macy's classroom, undergoing the first phases of elf training. You can be an entrance elf, a water-cooler elf, a bridge elf, train elf, maze elf, island elf, magic-window elf, usher elf, cash-register elf or exit elf.

We were given a demonstration of various positions in action, acted out by returning elves, who were so onstage and goofy that it made me a little sick to my stomach. I don't know that I could look anyone in the eye and exclaim: Oh, my goodness, I think I see Santa. Or can you close your eyes and make a very special Christmas wish?

Everything these elves say seems to have an exclamation point on the end of it. It makes one's mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment. It embarrasses me to hear people talk this way. I think I'll be a low-key sort of elf.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)

SEDARIS: Twenty-two thousand people came to see Santa today and not all of them were well-behaved. Today, I witnessed fistfights and vomiting and magnificent tantrums. The back hallway was jammed with people. There was a line for Santa and a line for the women's bathroom. And one woman, after asking me a thousand questions already, asks: Which is the line for the women's bathroom? And I shouted that I thought it was the line with all the women in it. And she said: I'm going to have you fired.

I had two people say that to me today: I'm going to have you fired. Go ahead, be my guest. I'm wearing a green velvet costume. It doesn't get any worse than this. Who do these people think they are? I'm going to have you fired, and I want to lean over and say: I'm going to have you killed.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SEDARIS: The overall cutest elf is a fellow from Queens named Ritchie. His elf name is Snowball and he tends to ham it up with the children, sometimes tumbling down the path to Santa's house. I generally gag when elves get that cute, but Snowball is hands-down adorable. You want to put him in your pocket.

Yesterday, Snowball and I worked as Santa elves, and I got excited when he started saying things like: I'd follow you to Santa's house any day, Crumpet. It made me dizzy, this flirtation. By mid-afternoon, I was running into walls. By late afternoon, Snowball had cooled down.

By the end of our shift, we were in the bathroom changing our clothes, and all a sudden we were surrounded by five Santas and three other elves. All of them were guys that Snowball had been flirting with. Snowball just leads elves on - elves and Santas.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SEDARIS: This morning, I worked as an exit elf, telling people in a loud voice: This way out of Santaland.

A woman was standing at one of the cash registers, paying for her pictures while her son lay beneath her, kicking and heaving, having a tantrum. The woman said: Riley, if you don't start behaving yourself, Santa is not going to bring you any of those toys you asked for.

The child said: He is too going to bring me toys, liar. He already told me.

The woman grabbed my arm and said: You there, elf. Tell Riley here that if he doesn't start behaving immediately, then Santa's going to change his mind and bring him coal for Christmas.

I said that Santa changed his policy and no longer traffics in coal. Instead, if you're bad, he comes to your house and steals things. I told Riley that if he didn't behave himself, Santa was going to take away his TV and all his electrical appliances and leave him in the dark.

The woman got a worried look on her face and said: All right. That's enough. I said, he's going to take your car and your furniture, and all of your towels and blankets and leave you with nothing. The mother said, No, that's enough - really.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "O, CHRISTMAS TREE")

SEDARIS: This afternoon, I was stuck being a photo elf for Santa-Santa. Santa-Santa has an elaborate little act for the children. He'll talk to them and give a hearty chuckle and ring his bells. And then he asks them to name their favorite Christmas carol. Santa then asked if they'll sing it for him.

The children are shy and don't want to sing out loud. So Santa-Santa says: Oh, little elf, little elf, help young Brenda here sing that favorite carol of hers.

Late in the afternoon, a child said she didn't know what her favorite Christmas carol was. Santa-Santa suggested "Away in a Manger." The girl agreed to it, but didn't want to sing because she didn't know the words. Santa-Santa said: Oh, little elf, little elf, come sing "Away in a Manger" for us.

It didn't seem fair that I should have to solo, so I sang it the way Billie Holiday might have sang if she'd put out a Christmas album.

(Singing) Away in a manger, no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head.

Santa-Santa did not allow me to finish.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, "O, CHRISTMAS TREE")

SEDARIS: This evening, I was sent to be a photo elf. Once a child starts crying, it's all over. The parents had planned to send these pictures as cards or store them away until the child has grown and can lie, claiming to remember the experience.

Tonight, I saw a woman slap and shake her crying child. She yelled: Rachel, get on that man's lap and smile or I'll give you something to cry about. Then she sat Rachel on Santa's lap and I took the picture, which supposedly means on paper, that everything is exactly the way it's supposed to be - that everything is snowy and wonderful.

It's not about the child or Santa or Christmas or anything, but the parents' idea of a world they cannot make work for them.

GREENE: David Sedaris from his essay "The Santaland Diaries," first heard on this program 20 years ago.

Holiday wishes from all of us at MORNING EDITION. It is MORNING EDITION NPR News. I'm David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.