Comic Maz Jobrani has performed on stages from the Middle East to the Middle West. His debut book is called, “I’m Not a Terrorist, but I’ve Played One on TV: Memoirs of a Middle Eastern Funny Man.” He shares a tale of a rude holiday awakening.
[Ed. note: If you’re playing the audio that accompanies this story and you have kids who have written letters to Santa Claus, Maz suggests, “Now is the time to send them to watch ‘Frozen’ for five minutes.”]
Maz Jobrani: I was born in Iran. And in Iran, our holiday actually happened at the Persian new year, which is always in March. It is called Nowruz, and Nowruz is kind of like if you can imagine all of the American holidays squeezed into two weeks. Parents give gifts, except they wouldn’t give you the gifts that you get on Christmas in America. They wouldn’t give you toys. They used to give you like a Rial — the Persian currency — and they would sign it. So you would get like a dollar, signed, and you would think, “That’s it?” And they’d say, “Yeah, it’s gonna bring you good luck!”
So we’d celebrate that way. We would get together with the family, we’d paint eggs so it was like Easter. We’d go door to door asking for treats, so it was like Halloween. We would light fireworks, so it was like the Fourth of July. All that happens within a two week period and it still happens.
So that was my first experience with holidays, until, the school I went to was an international school. And in first grade, we did half day Persian classes and the other half we did English classes. So when we started doing English classes, we also had Santa visit. It was amazing because this guy shows up with a white beard and this red suit, and he’s got a bag and in the bag he had toys.
So finally I was getting toys, as a gift, and I was like, “This is a cool holiday!” And then our holiday break comes up. We don’t know the revolution is gonna happen, but my father is on business in New York. He sends for my mother to send my sister and I to go visit him in New York. I always say that we packed for two weeks, and we ended up staying for 35 years because no one knew the revolution was going to get worse and worse.
So at some point, I tell my mom, “Let’s go see Santa!” And at that point, my mother’s exhausted, she’s come from Iran all the way to America, and so she just laid it out and said, “Listen, this is a tough time in my life. I’m not about to put on a whole show with this red-suited fat guy with a white beard and pretend like there’s a Santa Claus. There is no Santa Claus. There’s only me and your father, and we’re both very tired. So find a toy, play with it, and ho ho ho.” And, life went on, until we settled down in northern California, Marin County.
Second grade, I meet some kids, one of them is named Peter, and his younger brother Michael. Their parents are German, and I go over to Peter’s house right around the Christmas holidays, and I show up and these guys are writing a letter. I go, “Who are you writing to?” And they said, “We’re writing to Santa!” I was like “Oh, well he doesn’t exist.”
And then this argument starts. And then no one can settle it because his parents are saying one thing, my parents are saying another thing. To them, they were like, “Oh, these crazy Americans with their fantasies. Tell Peter that his country was involved in the 1953 coup of Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran — that’s reality.”
So flash forward three decades, and I’ve got my own kids. A seven-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl. You would think I would follow in the footsteps of my immigrant parents and let them know early on that Santa does not exist. But no, I go the opposite way. I have Santa, Easter bunnies, tooth fairies, you name it. These things exist in our household.
My kids live in a complete fantasyland.