When Christmastime rolls around, I get nostalgic. It’s not that my family doesn’t get together (oh boy, do we get together!) or that I miss the gifts I got as a child. I am quite happy with a stocking full of chocolate and various and sundry items, thanks very much.
What I miss is being an elf.
I have been an elf (or more accurately “Santa’s Helper”) for the best—no the real Santa Claus and his excellent photographer. I didn’t have to wear the costumes, thank goodness—just a red and/or green top and jeans. And sometimes, a Santa hat.
You see, my uncle is Santa. Real beard and everything. He may be the reason I was never scared of Santa—I actually don’t know. But I’ve been to him as long as I can remember for my Santa pictures. (Sadly, I’ve missed the last couple years. I’m planning on changing that this year if I can.) Around 7th grade, I became an elf for service hours initially.
There’s really not much to it. I’d run rolls of film (yup, rolls of film. We were old school for a good long while) to the drug store, hand out slips with the number corresponding to the roll of film, hand out candy canes, and get small children and animals to look at the camera. That was more or less the official description of my duties, anyway.
The actual work was all that, sure, but there was more. I was the Starbucks runner, being the most mobile of the group (and usually the most senior). Not sure I ever got the amount of cream in the photographer’s coffee right, but y’know…
I also had to find wherever the extra candy canes were hidden, as well as the cd player. I bought a little stuffed animal every year to help distract kids. (A few years, I had to buy two, as little kids aren’t always so great about remembering to give them back after being distracted by them.) I’ve held coats and children, and have had my fair share of near-accidents, including one of a pair of three-month-old twins projectile vomiting inside our little hut. I’ve had to figure out how to display letters so that they didn’t get blown away with the door opening and closing. I took pictures with whatever device I was offered, usually not terribly well. My first year, I actually had to get security to go after a family who walked off with all the salvation army gifts from under the tree. (Yes, I said they were “for the less fortunate”, and this family probably belonged in that category… but there was a sign right there saying where the gifts were going!) I carted barrels of donated food between wherever Santa was and the security office.
On the slow days (usually the first weekend), I’d sit on the floor, close to the heater when there was one, talking with Santa and the photographer. I’d steal Santa’s chair when he got up to walk around, usually resulting in a goofy picture or two. I also got to take a couple pictures of the photographer and Santa. Professional equipment is heavy!
More than that, though, there was just this air of festivity, of joy and love. It was (for the most part) the holiday spirit personified. It’s not that I don’t get that now, but there was always something different about being in the middle of it. It’s amazing to see kids in their late teens and early twenties walk in without their parents to take a photo to surprise them with. It’s fun to see families who dress up. It’s wonderful to see familiar faces, whether they’re friends from school or long-time visitors of Santa. (Remember the twins I mentioned earlier? I saw them for the next six years.)
The one thing sure to ruin that, though?
Without fail, nearly every day I was there, someone would scold their child (usually one between a year and four years) for crying. You are putting your child in the lap of a very odd-looking stranger. It does not matter that you’ve described Santa Claus ad nauseum and read Christmas books every night for the last month—your child might freak out. It’s one thing if it’s a pouty face for the camera, but a screaming, wriggling toddler does not make for a good picture, especially when you add your own yelling into the mix. Instead, see if your child will sit in your lap, or in Santa’s chair, and have Santa sneak in while an elf distracts them.
Trust me; it works.
The whole point was to have fun, to spend time with loved ones, and to indulge in wishes.
My wish would be to live it again.