“Jesus Shaves” Summary
In Sedaris’s second month of French classes in Paris, the class is learning to combine personal pronouns with holidays, as the teacher asks the class to describe what one might do on various holidays, like Bastille Day. The answers are only being offered on a volunteer basis, so Sedaris is able to relax a little, confident that other students will do all the talking. One student in particular, a Moroccan woman, is already fluent in French and is only taking the course to improve her spelling. She regularly dominates class discussions to show off her superior skills. The teacher eventually moves away from the subject of Bastille Day and begins to discuss Easter, asking the class, “And what does one do on Easter?”
Sedaris reflects on his family’s relationship with Easter. Raised Greek Orthodox, he recalls watching other families eating chocolate figurines while he and his siblings suffered through fasts and lengthy sessions of prayer. In Greek Orthodoxy, Easter is celebrated weeks after “American Easter,” though Sedaris can’t recall why. His mother always said it was because the Greeks are “cheap sons of bitches” who want to take advantage of the post-Easter discounts on “marshmallow chicks and plastic grass.”
Because Sedaris’s father is Greek Orthodox and his mother is Protestant, their family celebrated a mixture of traditions. The children would receive Easter baskets filled with candy and, as they grew older, more adult gifts like cigarettes. The family would also play a traditional Greek game wherein players toast one another with eggs. The person with the final uncracked egg supposedly wins a year’s worth of good luck, but Sedaris notes that the one year he won was also the year his mother died, his apartment was broken into, and he was taken to the emergency room and diagnosed with “housewife’s knee.”
During the French class’s discussion of Easter, the Moroccan woman raises her hand and asks, with genuine confusion, “Excuse me, but what’s an Easter?” The class attempts to answer her question in French—with very limited success. Attempting to describe the religious significance of the holiday within the context of Christianity, several students try to describe Jesus’s death and relationship to God in humorously broken French: “He call his self Jesus and then he be die one day on two . . . morsels of . . . lumber.” The class has enough trouble with the basic vocabulary and is therefore woefully incapable of capturing the cornerstone of Christian faith.
Realizing they lack the vocabulary necessary to express the complexity of Easter’s religious significance, the class switches tacks and starts describing how Easter is celebrated instead, focusing particularly on the food: “Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb . . . One too may eat of the chocolate,” one student explains. The teacher interjects, asking who it is that brings chocolate during Easter. Sedaris decides to chime in and answers, “The rabbit of Easter.” The teacher, however, is confused and informs Sedaris that,...
(The entire section is 765 words.)