The woman at Macy’s asked, “Would you be interested in full-time elf or evening and weekend elf?”

I said, “Full-time elf.”

I have an appointment next Wednesday at noon.

I am a thirty-three-year-old man applying for a job as an elf.

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you all had a lovely day with your families, or sets of friends. Me I’m on top of the moon. For today’s review is coming to you courtesy of Amazon’s little Kindle device.

This will no doubt cut down on my weekly trips to the library and save me some back strain from lugging two dozen books around in my satchel.

Sedaris first made a splash in 1992 with this true-to-life account of his brief time working as a store elf in Macy‘s Santa Land. Apparently it has become a popular theatre piece as a one man play, particularly in college theatres. Like Bad Santa this book revels in the fouler side of the Christmas season, with pushy parents, lewd store elfs and apathetic Santas.

All I do is lie, and that has made me immune to compliments.

Sedaris finds himself working alongside not only out-of-work actors and performers, but former professionals who lost their jobs due to the recession. This makes for an unfortunate mix of attention seeking and bitterness. Elves must remain perky and cheerful at all times, even in the face of obnoxious parents. Sedaris describes encountering racism in his role on two fronts, with white families refusing to meet with a black santa, not to mention a mother complaining that the African American Santa she has been directed to is not black enough. Then there are the parents who enjoy embarassing their children in Santa’s grotto, or even forcing them to make preprepared speeches. Sometimes they insist on the child listing the gifts they have already bought for them, or in one case:

“All right, Jason. Tell Santa what you want. Tell him what you want.”

Jason said, “I….want…Prokton and…Gamble to…stop animal testing.”

The mother said, “Procter, Jason, that’s Procter and Gamble. And what do they do to animals? Do they torture animals, Jason? Is that what they do?”

Jason said, Yes, they torture. He was probably six years old.

Of course Sedaris’ colleagues are just as bad. Some use the opportunity of working as elves to try and pick up the mothers queuing for a date. Then there is the Santa who never breaks character. He insists on addressing Sedaris as ‘Little Elf’, and forces him to sing to the children. Not to mention Santa Jerome who enjoys lecturing the children about Entomology.

The Santaland Diaries whips along, with richly comic observations about the characters Sedaris meets in his low-paid role as a store elf. As his frustrations with the falsity of the store’s winter wonderland grows, his responses to ill-mannered customers and demanding children become increasingly acerbic. There are moments of pathos in the book as well though, so as the visits by disabled children, which require an ‘elf’, to assess and warn the ‘Santa’, how to respond. ‘What do you want for Christmas’, could have an unfortunate response.

Christmas is a time for coming together, exchanging gifts and enjoying the company of our loved ones. It is also a time when buying a gift can mean running  a gamut of mobbed shopping complexes and families can drive you up the wall. I have been given Tom Brown’s School Days twice – from the same relative!

This book’s sardonic humour is a welcome relief from the stresses and strains of the holiday season. Richly comic and brilliantly observed.