“The Santaland Diaries” by David Sedaris
The first time I heard “The Santaland Diaries,” I had just turned 18. Driving from an early morning swim practice, I could still smell the chlorine in my hair, and for some reason, the radio drifted from a low-on-the-dial college jazz show that I would listen to occasionally to our local NPR station. It was Morning Edition. I heard the jingle bells, the first beats of the piece that made David Sedaris famous, and my fingers instinctively stopped scrolling.
The first time you hear David Sedaris, his breathy, pinched-nose delivery is enough to keep your ears tuned to his distinctive manner of storytelling quite literally for hours. Before Field Notes, I was never without a pad of hotel stationery and my trusted Pilot V7 pens. I remember slowing at a red light and scribbling “The Santaland Diaries” onto a piece of beige Marriott paper, and then detouring to my local book shop. That morning, I bought a hardcover copy of Holidays on Ice, and proceeded to read the entire thing in one sitting over that weekend. I took it to school the next Monday and showed it to my longtime mentor. My senior English teacher had also been my seventh grade English teacher, and over those six years, I’d pester him with questions about my literary discoveries.
“This is what I want to sound like when I write.”
A few years later, just after switching majors from journalism to creative writing, I learned Sedaris would be visiting our program for a few days. He signed my dog-eared copy of Holidays, workshopped a shitty short story I was working on called “Lucifer’s Noggin,” and entertained us for hours with pithy responses to our amateurish works. I remember when he told me, “No one is going to believe that you found the devil’s head on your doorstep. You’re just going to have to tell them that’s what happened,” that sometimes, the obvious thing should be just that. Obvious.
Since then, every year, I will take a drive and turn on “The Santaland Diaries.” I can still smell the chlorine.
Now, every Christmas “The Santaland Diaries” can come to a theater near you in Joe Mantello’s adaptation of Sedaris’ work.
Ira Glass interviewed Sedaris on the 25th anniversary of “The Santaland Diaries.”
Update 12/22/2020: Open Culture posted this excellent piece, Why David Sedaris Hates “The Santaland Diaries,” the NPR Piece that Made Him Famous in which I learned that Bob Rutan, a Macy’s executive who worked at Herald Square at the time, said that Sedaris made an “outstanding elf.”