How did the story of a snail seeking enlightenment become a cherished Xmas tradition?

It's just not Christmas without a snail on your tree.

It's just not Christmas without a snail on your tree. Provided by the author

When you’ve hosted an annual 24+ hour radio show every Christmas Eve and Christmas day since Ronald Reagan was president, you get a lot of questions.

"Why do you do it?"

"How do you stay awake the whole time?"

"What’s the deal with that story about the snail?"

My program, which airs on 103.3 fm WPRB in Princeton, New Jersey, is a day-plus long marathon of Christmas music, full of songs, themes and, moments that make far more sense transmitted over the radio than they do on paper.

One of the things the show has become best-known for is a lengthy word-jazz retelling of Buddha’s story where Siddhartha is replaced by a snail named Jerry who achieves enlightenment on the way to the North Pole called “Snaildartha: The Story of Jerry the Christmas Snail.”

Like the best parts of the marathon, that description barely works typed out. But in reality it has become something people all over the world look forward to every Christmas.

Snaildartha originated in Minneapolis.

It was made by people I’ve never met and maybe never will, but it has, against all reasonable expectations, become a highlight of my show.

I’ve heard from listeners who now hang snail ornaments on their Christmas trees because of this piece. In Twitter posts, in emails, in conversations, unconnected folks say the same thing:

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas until I hear ‘Snaildartha’ on your show.”

Somehow, in late 2004, the same year the story of Jerry the Christmas Snail was first released, this tale reached my pre-marathon preview pile. When I heard it I knew it was unique and it had to be part of the broadcast.

Looking back at that year’s playlist, there it is for the first time, snug between a blippy version of “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” by Information Society (also from Minneapolis!) and Spain’s haunting “Spiritual.

“Snaildartha” has aired all 13 Xmas marathons since then, usually around 10:00 a.m. ET on Christmas day, in tandem with Lindstrom’s incredible, endlessly building 42:43 rendition of “Little Drummer Boy (something that shouldn’t work either), and this stretch is routinely the most-streamed portion of the show, according to WPRB’s online listener stats.

That’ll be the case again when I do my 30th annual Christmas show this December 24 and 25, expanding to 30 hours long for one year only to celebrate 30 years of marathons.

 A week before that Matt Fugate, Chris Strouth, and the rest of the Snaildartha Six will perform Snaildartha live for the very first time at the Turf Club. I’m exceptionally jealous of those who can be there. It looks unlikely that I’ll be able to swing a trip to Minneapolis.

 Please give them, Jerry, Bob the Arbor Day Snail, Scott the Elf, Santa Claus and all the rest of the multi-hued animal kingdom my deep thanks when you go to the show for making something so thoroughly unique and unexpected, which came to me by chance, but I couldn’t imagine my Christmas without.

Someone record the whole thing too!

I happen to know a show that would love to air it…

Jon Solomon’s 30th Annual Holiday Radio Show airs on 103.3 FM WPRB from 3 p.m. ET on Christmas Eve until 9 p.m. ET on Christmas day. Those outside of the NJ/PA area can stream at  

Snaildartha: A Chris Strouth Production
With: The Bad Companions and DJ Jake Rudh
Where: Turf Club
When: 7 p.m. Sun. Dec. 16
Tickets: $12; more info here