I think Chris first turned me on to this David Sedaris clip. It’s Sedaris’ explanation of Christmas in Holland, and how their local Christmas story is a tad different from our own. It’s one of the funniest, laugh out loud (then cry out loud) things I’ve ever heard in my life. You have to listen to the entire reading, done by Sedaris himself, over the three clips. (Sedaris is gay, by the way.)
I remember when I was doing my junior year abroad in France in 1983-84, and as part of my language study we had to get up in front of the class (of foreigners, mostly Europeans, a few Japanese and Latin Americans) and talk about our local Christmas customs. Everyone gave very nice stories of the traditional foods they ate, or how the Swedes sing about Santa Lucia while holding candles in the middle of December – sweet European things like that.
I, on the other hand, got up and explained, in my still somewhat broken French, the story of Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (and how he guided Santa’s sleigh at night with his bright red glowing nose), and the toy-making elves who live in the North Pole, and how every Christmas eve Santa comes down the chimney to deliver gifts to all the good boys and girls (the bad ones get coal), then twinkles his nose to fly back up the chimney, and finally, as he flies away in his eight-reindeer-driven sleigh yells “Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas!”
They thought I was completely batty. At first no one believed me that this was the actual American Christmas mythology. I was actually a bit taken aback that the story was that unbelievable. Not unbelievable that men can fly up chimneys by twinkling their noise – everyone gets that that’s a bit fanciful – but unbelievable that we Americans had such a ridiculous Christmas story! It ended up being a hysterical presentation, when that certainly wasn’t my intent.
I had no idea Christmas customs – the story of Santa Claus specifically – was so different in Europe. I honestly thought we got much of our story from them.
Not so much.
Listen to the Sedaris story below, all three clips – it’s a joy. And illustrates the point, in only the way David Sedaris can, that our customs really are quite different in each country. Or as David says, “everyone knows Santa doesn’t speak Spanish.”