David Sedaris: “The Santaland Diaries”

See image credit below.

See image credit below.

For Julia and Jim, my favorite David Sedaris fans

My sister, Julia, is one of David Sedaris’s biggest fans. She and my husband, Jim, love giggling together over favorite passages from Sedaris’s droll radio essays.

While Sedaris is an accomplished writer, it is in his oral delivery of his essays – his readings – that he really makes his mark. Sure, you can recite a favorite line or try to imitate him doing “Away in a Manger” as Billie Holiday, but really, why try? Only David Sedaris can really do David Sedaris.

Sedaris’s breakout came when he recorded “The Santaland Diaries” for NPR’s Morning Edition in December 1992, his debut for national public radio. When the essay was broadcast, more people requested a tape of it than any Morning Edition story up to that time (except for the death of beloved NPR commentator Red Barber.)

Small in stature, Sedaris recalls landing a gig (if you can call it that) as Crumpet the Elf in Macy’s Santaland. He played Crumpet for two seasons at the Macy’s store in New York’s Herald Square. If you are familiar with Sedaris’s work, you know that this bizarre set-up – small gay man meets American capitalist Christmas extravaganza – is the perfect vehicle for Sedaris’s storytelling.

How did Sedaris make it to the big time? Radio host Ira Glass discovered him in a Chicago club where Sedaris was reading from his diary. Glass invited Sedaris to appear on his weekly local program, The Wild Room. “I owe everything to Ira,” says Sedaris. “My life just changed completely, like someone waved a magic wand.” Since his big break on NPR, Sedaris has been a frequent contributor to Glass’s nationally distributed public radio program, This American Life.

Are Sedaris’s essays true? Alexander S. Heard – in an article for The New Republicwent to the trouble of fact-checking some of the essays and found holes (sometimes gaping holes) in Sedaris’s tales. He did work at Macy’s Santaland, and Bob Rutan, a Macy’s executive, recalls him as “an outstanding elf.” But given the controversy surrounding the factuality of the essays, NPR now clearly labels “The Santaland Diaries” – a perennial holiday favorite – as fiction. And Sedaris himself in a note in his 2009 book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames, acknowledged that his tales are “realish.” (For more on the controversy over the “truth” behind Sedaris’s essays, check out this Washington Post article.)

Ready to explore more of Sedaris’s work? Check out his 1994 collection, Barrel Fever, or his 1997 collection, Holidays on Ice, both of which include “The Santaland Diaries.” Other volumes include: Naked (1998), Me Talk Pretty One Day (2001), Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2005), and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls (2014). These books are also available as audio recordings – and if you want the full David Sedaris experience, I recommend investing in The Ultimate David Sedaris Box Set.

To learn more, visit Sedaris’s official website – and if you want to stay up to date on all things David Sedaris, you can follow him on Facebook or sign up for his newsletter. You can also listen to and read excerpts from a 2013 Terry Gross interview with Sedaris on Fresh Air.

This holiday season revisit David Sedaris’s “The Santaland Diaries” – or if you’ve never heard it before, sit back, buckle up, and get ready for some rip-roaring laughter.

Listen:Listen as David Sedaris reads “The Santaland Diaries” in its entirety. For a shorter clip, visit the Morning Edition website. Follow along with an excerpt reprinted in The New York Times.


Image Credit: David Sedaris behind the microphone at WBUR in Boston, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:David_Sedaris_(June_2008).jpg.