I've been hearing about how hilarious David Sedaris is for years, had a couple of his books on my shelves that have been sitting untouched for awhile now so I decided to finally crack 'em open. This is the first of his works I've read. I found some stories humorous, others just flat out disturbing (the Khe Sahn / baby Don story... wtf?!).
I will say that reading about Dutch Santa was an education! I felt a strange mix of amusement and bafflement reading this:
While our Santa flies in on a sled, the Dutch version arrives by boat and then transfers to a white horse...I learned that Saint Nicholas travels with what was consistently described as "6-8 black men". I asked several Dutch people to narrow it down, but none of them could give me an exact number. It was always "6-8", which seems strange, seeing as how they've had hundreds of years to get an accurate head count.The six to eight black men were characterized as personal slaves until the mid-1950s, when the political climate changed and it was decided that instead of being slaves they were just good friends.... 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"
"Yes, that's it. They'd kick him and beat him with a switch. Then, if the youngster was really bad, they'd put him in a sack and take him back to Spain."
"Saint Nicholas would kick you?"
"Well, not anymore. Now he just pretends to kick you."
He considered this to be progressive, but in a way I think it's almost more perverse than the original punishment. "I'm going to hurt you but not really." How many times have we fallen for that line? The fake slap invariably makes contact, adding the element of shock and betrayal to what had previously been plain old fashioned fear. What kind of Santa spends his time pretending to kick people before stuffing them into a canvas sack? Then, of course, you've got the 6-8 former slaves who could potentially go off at any moment. This, I think, is the greatest difference between us and the Dutch. While a certain segment of our population might be perfectly happy with the arrangement, if you told the average white American that 6-8 nameless black men would be sneaking into his house in the middle of the night, he would barricade the doors and arm himself with whatever he could get his hands on.
"Six to eight, did you say?"
In the years before central heating, Dutch children would leave their shoes by the fireplace, the promise being that unless they planned to beat you, or stuff you in a sack, Saint Nicholas and the 6-8 black men would fill your clogs with presents. Aside from the threats of violence and kidnapping, it's not that much different than hanging your stockings from the mantel...
Our Christmas story remains relatively dull. Santa lives with his wife in a remote polar village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you're bad, he leaves you coal. If you're good and life in America, he'll give you just about anything you want... A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, "Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things before going to bed. The former bishop of Turkey will be coming tonight along with 6-8 black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you in a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don't know for sure, but we want you to be prepared."
While I didn't honestly laugh out loud much, some stories did get an honest smirk out of me, my favorite being the story about the Halloween candy. The story about the medical examiner had a macabre humor to it and I liked Sedaris' attempt at poetry inspired by the forensics textbook. You might be reading this thinking "what does this have to do with the holidays?" Well, don't look at me, I wondered the same thing myself at times! X-D I got some entertainment out of it but for this type of writing, I think I prefer You Better Not Cry, Augusten Burrough's Christmas collection.