“They might stuff you in a sack and take you to Spain”

My family’s other Christmas Eve tradition is a reading of David Sedaris’s The Santaland Diaries.   Sedaris is now a well-known comic essayist, but before he was published, he supported himself through a variety of odd jobs, including working as an elf in Macy’s Santaland.  The story is a series of funny vignettes from his term of employment.  Some of them made their debut in 1992 on NPR.  You can still listen to the  original broadcast.

When we go through it as a family, we take turns reading aloud, passing the book on when we get tired or when we are laughing too hard to see.

Sedaris has one other short story that is particularly seasonal.  “Six to Eight Black Men” is available online and the title refers to a common Danish belief about Santa Claus:

The words silly and unrealistic were redefined when I learned that Saint Nicholas travels with what was consistently described as “six to eight black men.” I asked several Dutch people to narrow it down, but none of them could give me an exact number. It was always “six to eight,” which seems strange, seeing as they’ve had hundreds of years to get a decent count.

The six to eight black men were characterized as personal slaves until the mid-fifties, when the political climate changed and it was decided that instead of being slaves they were just good friends. I think history has proven that something usually comes between slavery and friendship, a period of time marked not by cookies and quiet times beside the fire but by bloodshed and mutual hostility. They have such violence in Holland, but rather than duking it out among themselves, Santa and his former slaves decided to take it out on the public. In the early years, if a child was naughty, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would beat him with what Oscar described as “the small branch of a tree.”

Merry Christmas!

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