Home Arts & Entertainment From the Archives: David Sedaris Holidays on Ice

From the Archives: David Sedaris Holidays on Ice

From the 1997 Ace Archives

Bitter Elves

I’ve met elves from all walks of life. Most of them are show business people, actors and dancers, but a surprising number of them held real jobs at advertising agencies and brokerage firms. Bless their hearts, these people never imagined there was a velvet costume waiting in their future. They’re the really bitter elves.                       

– David Sedaris,

“SantaLand Diaries”


David Sedaris’s Holidays on Ice (1997) takes holiday traditions that have long been wrung dry of any wit or comedy and invests them not just with new life, but the ultimate in delighted savagery. In “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family,” for example, the wretched tradition of Christmas newsletters is skewered and flamed to a nearly unbelievable crisp (“There’s no way the Dunbar family can grieve their terrible loss and carry on the traditions of the season. No family is that strong’ you’re thinking to yourselves. Well, think again!!!!!!!!!! …The bitter tears were still wet upon our faces when the police returned to Tiffany Circle, where they began their ruthless questioning of Yours Truly!!!!!!!!!”) 

“Front Row Center” opens with the narrator’s introduction to “any of the crucifying holiday plays and pageants currently eliciting screams of mercy from within the confines of our local elementary and middle schools. I will, no doubt, be taken to task for criticizing the work of children but, as any pathologist will agree, if there’s a cancer, it’s best to treat it as early as possible.”   

But the book’s classic is undoubtedly “SantaLand Diaries.” The title says it all, and yet it doesn’t begin to capture the unique agony of an elf at Macy’s: “I had two people say that to me today, ‘I’m going to have you fired.’ Go ahead, be my guest. I’m wearing a green velvet costume, it doesn’t get any worse than this. Who do these people think they are? ‘I’m going to have you fired!’ I wanted to lean over and say, ‘I’m going to have you killed.'”)

If there’s a motif that emerges in every story, it is Sedaris’s fear of being unremarkable.

In “SantaLand Diaries,” he reflects on the children’s requests of Santa, “It is sad because you would like to believe that everyone is unique and then they disappoint you every time by being exactly the same.” Later he adds, “All of us take pride and pleasure in the fact that we are unique, but I’m afraid that when all is said and done the police are right: it all comes down to fingerprints.”

The book concludes with the absurd “Christmas Means Giving,” which offers handy holiday advice like “Generosity can actually make people feel quite uncomfortable if you talk about it enough. I don’t mean the bad ‘boring uncomfortable’ but something much richer. If practiced correctly, generosity can induce feelings of shame, inadequacy, and even envy, to name just a few.”

God bless us every one.

And to all a good night.



David Sedaris is at the Lexington Opera House on Thursday December 16, 2021. 

This article also appears on page 18 of the December 2021 print edition of Ace. 

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