Crumpet the Elf Reprise: 2006

Crumpet the Elf is back. Actually, it's writer David Sedaris, reminding us what it was like to work as a Macy's elf. We first learned about Sedaris' un-merry Christmas 14 years ago when he read from his Santaland Diaries. Crumpet is back for an encore.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

If you had a chance to look at the resume of the writer David Sedaris, you might find an entry for Santa's Helper. Fourteen years ago, here on MORNING EDITION, David Sedaris read excerpts from his “Santaland Diaries.” They were about his experiences working as a Macy's Department Store elf. That reading launched David Sedaris' career as a playwright and humorist. And we would not want the ever-important 14th anniversary to pass unnoticed. So, back for another holiday season, here's David Sedaris as Crumpet, the elf.

Mr. DAVID SEDARIS (Writer): I wear green velvet knickers, a forest green velvet smock and a perky little hat decorated with spangles. This is my work uniform.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SEDARIS: I've spent the last several days sitting in a crowded windowless Macy's classroom undergoing the first phases of elf training. You could be an entrance elf, a water cooler elf, a bridge elf, train elf, maze elf, island elf, magic window elf, usher elf, cash register elf or exit elf.

We were given a demonstration of various positions in action acted out by returning elves who were so on stage and goofy that it made me a little sick to my stomach.

I don't know that I could look anyone in the eye and exclaim, Oh, my goodness, I think I see Santa! Or, can you close your eyes and make a very special Christmas wish? Everything these elves say seems to have an exclamation point on the end of it!

It makes one's mouth hurt to speak with such forced merriment. It embarrasses me to hear people talk this way. I think I'll be a low-key sort of elf.

(Soundbite of crowd)

Mr. SEDARIS: Twenty-two thousand people came to see Santa today and not all of them were well-behaved. Today, I witnessed fistfights and vomiting and magnificent tantrums. The back hallway was jammed with people. There was a line for Santa and a line for the women's bathroom.

And one woman, after asking me a thousand questions already, asked, which is the line for the women's bathroom. And I shouted that I thought it was the line with all the women in it. And she said, I'm going to have you fired. 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. And I want to lean over and say, I'm going to have you killed.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SEDARIS: This morning I worked as an exit elf, telling people in a loud voice, This way out of Santa land! A woman was standing at one of the cash registers paying for her pictures while her son lay beneath her, kicking and heaving, having a tantrum.

The woman said, Riley, if you don't start behaving yourself, Santa's not going to bring you any of those toys you asked for. The child said, he is, too, going to bring me toys, liar! He already told me! The woman grabbed my arm and said, you, there, elf. Tell Riley here that if he doesn't start behaving immediately, then Santa's going to change his mind and bring him coal for Christmas.

I said that Santa changed his policy and no longer traffics in coal. Instead, if you're bad, he comes to your house and steals things. I told Riley that if he didn't behave himself, Santa was going to take away his T.V. and all his electrical appliances and leave him in the dark. All your appliances, Riley, including the refrigerator. Your food is going to spoil and smell bad. You're going to wish you never even heard the name Santa.

The woman got a worried look on her face and said, all right, that's enough. I said, he's going to take your car and your furniture and all of your towels and blankets and leave you with nothing. The mother said, no, that's enough, really.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SEDARIS: This afternoon I was stuck being photo elf with Santa Santa. During most days there's a slow period when you sit around the house and talk to Santa. And most of them are nice guys and we sit around and laugh. But Santa Santa takes himself a bit too seriously.

I asked him where he lives, Brooklyn or Manhattan, and he said, why, I live at the North Pole with Mrs. Claus. I asked what he does the rest of the year and he said, I make toys for all the children. He actually recited the Night Before Christmas and it was just the two of us in the house - no children, just us.

He says, oh, little elf, little elf. Straighten up those mantle toys for Santa. I reminded him that I have a name - Crumpet - and then I straightened up the stuffed animals.

Santa Santa has an elaborate little act for the children. He'll talk to them and give a hearty chuckle and ring his bells. And then he asks them to name their favorite Christmas carol. Santa then asks if they'll sing it for him. The children are shy and don't want to sing out loud so Santa Santa says, oh, little elf, little elf. Help young Brenda here sing that favorite carol of hers.

Late in the afternoon a child said she didn't know what her favorite Christmas carol was. Santa Santa suggested “Away in a Manger.” The girl agreed to it, but didn't want to sing, because she didn't know the words. Santa Santa said, oh, little elf, little elf. Come sing “Away in a Manger” for us.

It didn't seem fair that I should have to solo, so I sang it the way Billie Holiday might have sang if she'd put out a Christmas album.

(Soundbite of “Away in a Manger”)

Mr. SEDARIS: (Singing) Away in a manger, no crib for a bed. The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head.

Santa Santa did not allow me to finish.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SEDARIS: This evening I was sent to be a photo elf. Once a child starts crying, it's all over. The parents had planned to send these pictures as cards or store them away until the child is grown and can lie, claiming to remember the experience.

Tonight I saw a woman slap and shake her crying child. She yelled, Rachel, get on that man's lap and smile or I'll give you something to cry about! Then she sat Rachel on Santa's lap and I took the picture, which supposedly means, on paper, that everything is exactly the way it's supposed to be - that everything is snowy and wonderful.

It's not about the child or Santa or Christmas or anything but the parent's idea of a world they cannot make work for them.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: That's the writer, David Sedaris, reading from his “Santaland Diaries,” which were first heard on this program 14 years ago.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Renee is going to take it through the holidays. Hope you enjoy them. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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Sedaris and Crumpet the Elf: A Holiday Tradition

David Sedaris at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2004. Credit: Ralph Orlowski-Getty Images.

David Sedaris at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest, in 2004. Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images

The Original 1992 Segment

Due to format changes at Morning Edition, the original 1992 "Santaland" segment was slightly longer than the one used for rebroadcast in 2004 and 2005. Here is the 1992 version:

The life of David Sedaris took an unexpected, and not entirely unwelcome, turn when his "Santaland Diaries" were first broadcast on Morning Edition in 1992.

Sedaris recounted his experiences playing Crumpet the elf at Macy's in New York during the holidays. Almost overnight, he went from obscurity to sought-after talent.

Now, 13 years later, he is a best-selling author who still appears on public radio from time-to-time.

And in those intervening years, the popularity of his original NPR appearance has only grown. So, here, once again, is Sedaris reading in 1992 from his "Santaland Diaries."

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