I think Chris first turned me on to this David Sedaris clip, titled “Six to Eight Black Men.” (UPDATE: A reader submitted a new link to the reading that works this time.)
It’s Sedaris’ explanation of Christmas in Holland, and how their local Christmas story is a tad different from our own, including the “fact” that Santa is originally from Turkey, where he worked his previous job as the Bishop, but now lives in Spain. You can imagine how Sedaris responded to that one.
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 – it’s only 20 minutes in total, and I think you’ll be crying with laughter.
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 at the time, the American version of Santa, thinking this was going to be incredibly boring because, really, aren’t all Santa stories the same?
So, I started talking about 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 parks his sleigh on your roof, then 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, after they got over their collective laughter, 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 to them – that they actually thought I’d quite possibly made the whole thing up myself. 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 could actually have such a ridiculous Christmas story.
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, at least about the reindeer, coming down the chimney, etc. 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 put its ever so succintly, “everyone knows Santa doesn’t speak Spanish.”
I cannot urge you strongly enough to listen to this – it’s only 15 minutes long, and you will surely not regret it. I listen to this every year and it cracks me up every time. Enjoy.