Carol Yepes/Getty Images
Years before comedian David Sedaris became a famous writer, he had a short stint as a Christmas elf at a Macy’s department store in New York.
His time as Santa’s helper was far from cheerful and bright — but it was going to change his life.
Sedaris wrote about the dark side of the holiday spirit in the Santaland Logsa sardonic collection of somewhat exaggerated stories based on his misfortunes as Crumpet the Elf.
“I don’t know if I can look someone in the eye and say, ‘Oh my God, I think I saw Santa Claus!’ or ‘Can you close your eyes and make a wish of Very special Christmas?'” he decided. “It hurts the mouth to talk with such forced cheerfulness. I think I’ll be some kind of low-key elf.”
Sedaris read from santaland for the first time on morning edition in 1992, when he was still a struggling writer who occasionally read his work at nightclubs.
This seven-minute read made him a sought-after talent overnight. And it created an NPR holiday tradition that is now in its 30th year.
Sedaris reflected Santaland’s endurance in a conversation with This American Life host Ira Glass — who actually facilitated that fateful first reading — on her 25th birthday in 2017.
“If you sat down and thought about it and thought, ‘Huh, what could I write that people would react to?’ Well, everyone has to take care of Christmas,” he said. “And it’s either going to torment you or delight you. And maybe that’s why it resonated with people, because it affected everyone.”
However, he added, if someone were to sit him down and specifically task him with writing something that would affect everyone, “I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything.”
And Sedaris also wants the record to show that despite the story’s air of Christmas cynicism, he’s no Grinch.
“It’s kind of interesting to me that people over the years have come up to me and been like, ‘Oh, Santaland, you know, I hate Christmas too,'” he said. “I love Christmas. I thought it was history. I love it!”
Click the play button above to hear Sedaris read as Crumpet the Elf.