Have yourself a subversive little Christmas

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Have yourself a subversive little Christmas

The writer David Sedaris was doing odd jobs for a living in New York City when he had his big break in 1992 with “SantaLand Diaries,” a weirdly invigorating piece of dark comedy based on his stint as a Christmas elf in Macy’s department store, where throngs of families jostle to visit Santa Claus and the human nerve is frayed to a screaming thread. In this artificial wonderland, as seen by Mr. Sedaris, creepy elves hit on mothers, horrendous camcorder-toting parents direct their children (“Rachel, get on that man’s lap and smile or I’ll give you something to cry about”) and Santas grouse about their long-term girlfriends (“I want an affair,” one Santa tells Mr. Sedaris after waving some children goodbye. “Just a little one, just something to get me through the next four or five years”).
Mr. Sedaris has since become one of the more popular humorists in America, writing the bestsellers “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” “Naked” and “Barrel Fever,” and contributing regularly to Esquire magazine and to National Public Radio. But “SantaLand Diaries” probably remains his best-known piece, and Christmas is a subject he keeps subversively returning to. Six of his holiday-themed stories, including “SantaLand Diaries,” are collected in “Holidays on Ice,” a nifty little paperback first published in 1997 which, at 134 pages and a mere 5 by 7 inches, would make a fine stocking stuffer for the most sardonic person in your extended family.
My personal favorite here is “Front Row Center With Thaddeus Bristol,” a faux theater review that applies the sadistic condescension of a Manhattan critic to elementary-school Christmas pageants (“Although the program listed no director, the apathetic staging suggested the limp, partially paralyzed hand of Sister Mary Elizabeth Bronson, who should have been excommunicated after last season’s disastrous Thanksgiving program”). Another gem, “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!” is in the form of one of those annual family newsletters that many U.S. families mail out with their Christmas cards, bragging about the kids and laden with multiple exclamation points; this one exclamation-points its way right into psychosis. If department-store Christmas lights give you hives, this book should bring some relief.

by David Moll
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