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ISSUE 117 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/5/2003

Author Sedaris puts the 'fun' into holiday dysfunction

By Lauren Hoffman
Contributing Writer


Friday, December 5, 2003

Forget holiday cheer. Forget about the roast beast, the stockings hung with care, the new bike under the tree and the warm fuzzy feeling that giving and receiving evokes. Forget every notion held dear about yuletide cheer. David Sedaris, in his collection of Christmas stories titled “Holidays on Ice,” has reclaimed the meaning of the holidays: ‘tis the season to be cynical.

Readers won’t find Tiny Tim, cherubic children dreaming of sugarplums or candy coated morals in any of the six stories in this slim volume. Sedaris’ “Santaland Diaries,” a spoken memoir of his experiences working as an elf at Macy’s, aired on NPR to such acclaim that Sedaris was suddenly pigeonholed as “the Christmas guy.” Tired of publications begging him for a Christmas story, Sedaris decided to create a work about the holidays that was so dark and twisted that people would start begging him to stop being “the Christmas guy.” This book is the result.

Sedaris’ extended version of “Santaland Diaries” opens the collection and is one of the collection’s finest pieces. Standing smack dab in the middle of commercialism during the most commercial time of the year, Sedaris stares unflinchingly at a frenzy of mass consumption. He accurately and hilariously captures parents so desperate to create that perfect holiday moment that they ignore their children, videotaping their child’s moment with Santa instead of enjoying it.

Following “Santaland Diaries” is “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family.” At its start, this story seems to be a vaguely comic description of a suburban family Christmas letter from “the Dunbar clan.” However, the story ends almost 30 pages later after Sedaris has thrown a crack baby, a 22-year-old prostitute and a very unfortunate load of laundry into the mix. This story is the most over-the-top of the collection, and readers’ laughs tend to have a guilty edge to them – you know you want to laugh, and you also know you shouldn’t.

The collection lags slightly with the story “Dinah, the Christmas Whore,” a purportedly true story of the time Sedaris’ sister rescued a friend from the wrong side of the tracks and brought her home for Christmas. Sedaris deadpans towards the story’s end that, “from this moment on, the phrase ho, ho, ho would take on a whole different meaning...”

Sedaris regains his momentum with “Front Row Center with Thadeus Bristol,” a mock review of several elementary and junior high school holiday pageants. Sedaris describes with comedic salience both pompous theater critics and those abysmal school plays that never end. Describing a production of “The Story of the First Christmas” directed by “the limp, partially paralyzed hand of Sister Mary Elizabeth,” Sedaris ends with these scathing words: “Pointing to the oversized crate that served as a manger, one particularly insufficient wise man proclaimed, ‘A child is bored.’ Yes, well, so was this adult.”

The collection is rounded off by its final two stories, “Based Upon a True Story” and “Christmas Means Giving.” The first of the two is a satire of the entertainment industry, telling the story of a television producer who travels to the backwoods of Appalachia, steals the pulpit in a Pentecostal church on Christmas morning, and tries to bribe the parishioners into convincing one of their flock to sell the rights to what he calls “the greatest story ever told.” And no, he’s not referring to the birth of Christ. Wheedling the crowd, the producer states, “Once every blue moon, we come upon a marriage of the true life mini-series and the holiday special and that is what we in the television industry like to call ‘Art.’”

“Holidays on Ice” ends with “Christmas Means Giving,” the story of two dueling affluent families who literally give away everything they own – satellite dishes, children, internal organs and their lives – in the name of out-giving the other.

A word of warning: these stories are over-the-top and are not for the easily offended. But taken with a grain of salt, they are wonderfully sarcastic with just a hint of holiday bitterness thrown in. It’s time for the Grinch to move over – David Sedaris has stolen Christmas with this collection, and the results are hilarious.





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