Revisiting David Sedaris' Santaland Diaries

During the holiday season I have a tendency to be the scrooge at every gathering of kindred spirits. I don’t necessarily celebrate any one of the holidays: Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, or even Festivus. In fact, I view the entire affair with a sharpened cynicism. I stand ready to dish out harsh rebuttals to every aspect of the season. Gift giving? Just a scheme that preys on the wallets of our consumer culture and creates an abundance of unnecessary pressure and stress. Christmas trees? Came from the Pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice and were once banned (along with the entire holiday) by the Puritans in the 1600s. Mistletoe? It’s actually a somewhat parasitic plant that preys on trees. Some varieties are even poisonous to you and your pets. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that my favorite moment of every holiday season is revisiting David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries.

For those who have been fortunate enough to stumble upon this staggering work of comic holiday genius, you’ll know exactly why I love it. Sedaris affirms the Grinch in each of us. The story, first appearing on NPR’s Morning Edition thirteen years ago and later in Sedaris’ Holidays on Ice, chronicles his experience working as one of Santa’s little helpers in Macy’s Santaland in New York City. His dry wit and knack for satire captures the absurdities of Christmas while filtering out almost every ounce of obnoxious and feigned holiday cheer.

There is the New Jersey man who shouts to Santa, “I WANT A BROAD WITH BIG TITS” while his “small-breasted wife” looks on. Or the woman who instructs her son to pee on fake snow. Or the other woman who requests a ‘traditional’ Santa and is sent by Blisters (Sedaris’ elf name) to Jerome, the black Santa. And, of course, the bewildered foreigners (from Santaland Diaries):

Often the single adults are foreigners who just happened to be shopping… a Santa Elf leads the way to a house where the confused and exhausted visitor addresses a bearded man in a red suit, and says, “Yes, OK. Today I am good.” He shakes Santa’s hand and runs, shaken, for the back door.
But perhaps the most raucous and potentially offensive story is Sedaris’ eyebrow-raising comparison between Santa and, you guessed it: Satan.

Santa just happens to be an anagram for Satan. Just move the ‘n’ to the end and you’ve gone from a jolly fat man to the epitome of all evil. When Blisters and his elf friend Puff came to this startling realization, they couldn’t help but substitute Satan for Santa when overhearing Macy’s shoppers (from Santaland Diaries):

“What do you think, Michael? Do you think Macy’s has the real Satan?”
“Don’t forget to thank Satan for the Baby Alive he gave you last year.”
“I love Satan.”
“Who doesn’t? Everyone loves Satan.”
You get the idea.

This year, however, I’ve come to the realization that the similarities between Santa Claus and Satan are actually quite eerie and alarming. This is a man who annually makes a ritual of breaking into millions of homes around the world. We should be concerned.

Firstly, consider Santa's home base. The North Pole is a frigid, frozen wasteland over which Santa reigns. From what I understand of the North Pole, Dante apparently had it just right when describing the ninth circle of his Hell in the Inferno. It's also a frigid, frozen wasteland, albeit holding the damned spirits of Earth's worst sinners. In the center of that final circle resides Lucifer himself. Could the North Pole indeed be this ninth circle? If so, Santa would undoubtedly be Satan.

Then, of course, are the peculiar traits Santa possesses that we naively see as lovable quirks. We set out heaps of cookies on Christmas Eve to appease his gluttony and embrace his propensity to give gifts, which in reality only breeds greed in our world's children. Gluttony and Greed- two of the seven deadly sins so far, but we certainly aren't finished. We must not forget that Santa works but one day out of the year. That would be number three: Sloth. Number four, Pride, is undeniable. You can't turn your head in November and December without seeing Santa's proud, plump face. I'm still working out Lust and Anger, but Envy is an easy one. Santa has obviously got it out out for the Judeo-Christian conception of God. Christmas, after all, is supposed to have a whole lot to do with God. Santa, however, falling prey to his immense jealousy of God's all-powerful and all-knowing status, is quickly rising to immortality and simultaneously shoving the Christ out of Christmas. When did anyone but God figure out how to know when you've been good or bad? I think it's becoming frighteningly clear that Satan has hijacked Christmas.

There are, of course, plenty more clues. Santa's red suit is no doubt a reflection of the evil in his heart. And who else but a devil would bewitch reindeer to fly? This December 25th I strongly suggest locking all doors and windows. If you have a fireplace either build a raging fire (though I'm not sure even that can stop Satan) or install a trap to catch that evil, yet jolly and obese man. Help create a safer holiday season for each of us.

Bush's Most Frightening Policy To Date: Domestic Surveillance

I'm frightened now. Fear is building in my bones. An internationally illegal war, torture, affronts on civil liberties via the Patriot Act, domestic failures on every front, tax cuts for the rich, children left behind, New Orleanians left behind, unchecked environmental destruction, investigations into administration officials - all of these failures will haunt the legacy of the Bush Administration. But nothing compares to George W. Bush's latest achievement. From the BBC:
President Bush has revealed he authorised a US intelligence agency to eavesdrop within the United States without court approval.
My own realization of this disturbing development in the war on terror has been burning in my gut since the New York Times revealed the story. I feel like someone has injected a puddle of molten metal into my stomach. This weight is crushing me and the burning alerts me to the magnitude and urgency of this gross affront on civil liberties.

Battles are raging in the Senate this week over the USA Patriot Act. Democrats and a handful of Republicans (including Idaho's Larry Craig) are filibustering the bill, holding out against Bush's heavy rhetoric, which is being echoed by GOP leaders in the Senate. If the Senate fails to vote by Christmas then 16 provisions of the USA Patriot Act, many violating civil liberties, will sunset. But concerns over the Patriot Act, as with every other offense of the Bush Administration and the GOP Congress, now seem lightweight next to domestic spying.

It is still unclear to what scope this executive order is utilized. And that is what is frightening. This domestic surveillance of international phone calls is done without any judicial oversight. The specifics of the program are classified. There is no check on the president's power. Bush suggests, in offense to the basic American values of dissent, that the American people should entrust him to protect us while upholding the law and civil liberties. He claims this executive order will only be utilized against known terrorists. We have, however, no guarantee but his and that is not sufficient.

But Bush's justification for this egregious violation of law and liberty is certainly the most alarming development yet in this new storm clouding Washington. After September 11th Congress granted the President the power to use all necessary force against terrorism. Armed with this act and the second article of the constitution Bush seems prepared to go to any length in his crusade against terrorism. According to the administration, extrajudicial domestic surveillance was implied in the act passed by Congress after September 11th. On Tuesday law professor Greg Maggs told NPR's All Things Considered, clarifying the administration's position, that the 'Use of Force Act' utilized in Afghanistan and Iraq also "supersedes FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]". Louis Fisher, however, told All Things Considered that "it is not appropriate to take from a general statute like the 'Use of Force Act' some implied amendment to an existing statute" like FISA. Fisher adds that "no member of Congress in debating that [Use of Force Act] ever thought of any change in the FISA statute." FISA, for those unfamiliar with the act, created a special court to approve the very type of surveillance that the administration has now undertaken. FISA even includes lawful methods for immediate action. There is simply no reason for the administration to supersede FISA and the only legal manner in which to do so is through amendments in Congress, not a broad executive order based on leaps of law logic. The assumption that this executive order is legal is clearly a stretch.

Using the precedence of this justification Bush can now conceivably take any imaginable action against terrorism, no matter the inherent sacrifice of civil liberties. His power is virtually unlimited and unchecked. VP Dick Cheney unabashedly confirms that. Also on All Things Considered on Tuesday, Cheney was reported as stating his belief that
(quote by NPR reporter, as interpreted from Cheney), "especially in the area of national security, presidential constitutional power should not be impaired at all." If the administration gets its way, the United States presidency will go from being vaguely imperial to clearly tyrannical.

Our only hope is that Congress will stand up to the offensive new load of rhetoric currently being spewed by administration officials. Senators like Arlen Specter and Russ Feingold have already called for hearings. John McCain, still skeptical of the story, said he obviously would not like domestic surveillance outside of the FISA court. We've reached a crucial fork in the road. Ignoring the administration's new abuses will foster a precedence sure to haunt us forever, not to mention right now. Standing up to this blatant drift toward tyranny, however, might reign in this increasingly imperial presidency.

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