12/14/08

Christmas #15: Christmas Elf

Need a hand around the house this holiday season? Someone to clean, wrap presents, and cook Christmas dinner? At my house, I have a Christmas elf- a magical guy infused with the season’s spirit. With his help, I manage to make my way through tinsel and trappings, finding peace and meaning despite December’s maddening pace.

My elf first appears at Thanksgiving. He helps bundle my two girls in jackets and mittens, and then holds them on a wagon ride deep into the snow- covered Western Pennsylvania woods.

“Let’s go pick out some greens for our wreath!” he gushes [nor really a gush; even it it was, don't label it that way], jumping off the wooden wagon as it stops deep in an evergreen forest. As the girls gather pine bows from the forest floor, the elf dashes about, bounding through the snow like an excited young fawn. “Look over here!” he gleefully announces, “Some holly berries!” The girls’ faces shine like holiday lights, glowing and ruby red.

“Can I help make our wreath this year?” my eldest asks, knowing full well the elf’s standard response to all things Christmas: “Why, of course!”

Later in my uncle’s barn shed, the elf sets to work helping my aunts and cousins thread pine bows though metal wreath forms. “You can help make one, too” he assures my daughter, helping her add crimson berries and bright red felt bows to each creation. Smiling easily, he seems at home in this workshop, accepting the season with skillful, open arms. An hour later, my wreath is finished: a circle of Christmas love intertwined in fragrant, fresh pine.

By the first of December, our holiday helper kicks into high gear.

“Time to get out the decorations!” he announces, ascending from our basement storage rooms with bins labeled “Ornaments”, “Holiday Books and Music,” and “Christmas Crafts.” Magically, the CD player, which I cannot ever get to work properly, starts playing Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and “Anne Murray’s Christmas Favorites.”

“Hurray! It’s time to get out all the stuff!” the girls chorus, then instantly start rummaging through candy-cane scented candles and tangled tree lights. Soon, they unearth treasure: Plastic Santa face stampers with red and green ink pads, golden jingle bell necklaces, and an oversized, stuffed gingerbread man. I stand back, feeling stress rise from the bins to my already aching head. As I reach for a Tylenol, the elf whistles a tune, already having strung half the banister with imitation pine garland. (How did he hide those green twisty ties? Though he used them to secure the garland, they are mysteriously gone from sight, vanished under bows of plastic pine.)

“There! Looks nice, right?” I nod, amazed at his good cheer.

“Want to take a break?” I ask, hopeful for a bit of eggnog to ward off my throbbing headache. (Pounding more than ever now that I think of what’s left to do: Christmas cards, shopping, meal planning, four recitals, three parties, and at least one cookie exchange.)

“I want to get the outside lights on before it gets dark,” he suggests.

[move up to previous paragraph] “Why don’t you just come out after a few minutes and see how I’m doing?”

A half hour later, the front porch twinkles. The doorframe, outlined in pine garland and glittery white lights, makes the perfect backdrop for my homemade wreath. A mechanical deer, complete with glowing red nose, softly paws the snow-covered yard. Two small evergreens, runty stumps guarding the front steps, now seem majestic, even proud. Like a teenager illuminated by a little makeup, these trees seem to smile, glowing with newfound importance. I smile as well, my Scrooge-like attitude melting under the season’s radiance.

A few days later, I am handed a gift-giving list, outlining possible purchases and shopping locales. “I think three presents per person is fine for this year,” the elf says, nodding toward the troubled economy. “I’ll shop for your mother, so you don’t have to worry about that.” A week later, a Simple Abundance devotional arrives from Amazon- a perfect fit for my spiritually minded mom.

“Look what I found for the girls,” he says the next afternoon, crinkling open several plastic bags filled with miniature-sized doll clothing.

“Take a look at this dude hat!” he laughs, unwrapping a small black beanie with the words “Dude” inscribed on the front. “This will fit perfectly on either the Webkinz Gecko or the Cheeky Monkey!”

My girls, avid collectors of Webkinz stuffed animals, will be thrilled. I feel light and almost giddy, the burden of long lines and crowded shopping malls magically lifted from my shoulders.

One evening after the girls are in bed, the elf cranks up the radio, pours each of us a glass of Christmas cheer (Merlot, it turns out, helps gift wrapping speed), and sets up shop: a rainbow of ribbons, six tubes of festive wrapping paper, and eight rolls of Scotch tape.

“I’ll wrap everything if you’ll do the bow and labels,” he suggests, already cutting a piece of red Elmo paper for my nephew’s new Matchbox cars.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” I write on the tags, amazed at my revelry. Maybe it’s the Merlot, or the carols playing on the kitchen radio. Despite the snowstorm raging outside, I feel warm and surprisingly settled. I take another sip of wine and soak up this Norman Rockwell-like moment. At my core, I am grateful- for this evening, this season, and my exuberant elfin assistant.

To me, an elf is worlds better than Santa. Santa does not address Christmas cards, print ink jet, alphabetized labels, or purchase postage stamps. (“I wasn’t sure if you wanted Madonna and Child or Snowmen, so I got plenty of both,” the elf says, avoiding any possible hassles.) Santa does not shop, wrap, and mail packages to far-flung relatives, weeks ahead of the big day. (“I’ll just stop by the post office during lunch,” my able assistant smiles, throwing two boxes in the back of the SUV.) And, I am pretty sure Santa does not agree to walk miles upon miles through the snow-covered woods to select and chop down the perfect Christmas tree. (Blue Spruce, over six feet tall, with a pointy, angel-worthy top branch.) Even if Santa does chop down a fresh tree, I am pretty sure he has help with the decorating phase. My elf, donning white surgical gloves for protection from prickly pine branches, insists on stringing the lights himself. I join him for the fun part- ornament and tinsel hanging. As I hang a glitter-covered Popsicle stick star, I think about my children. How lucky they are to be exposed to the elf’s selfless giving.

As I sit down to Christmas Eve dinner- sautéed scallops and jumbo shrimp atop a bed of garlic mashed potatoes, I feel a little guilty. As usual, my holiday helper cooked a delectable feast. My contribution, a bag of pre-washed salad greens tossed with cranberries and pecans, looks sophomoric next to the artistically designed seafood. Fresh carrots jut out from the potatoes- a tower of goodness, presented with flair. “You outdid yourself again this year,” my mom raves. I smile, but I am not fooling anyone. My secret is out: Elfin magic, delivered by a generous guy I deeply love.

Wearing khaki Dockers and a brown wool sweater, my elf looks surprisingly ordinary. No green tights or pointy shoes for this guy. Standing just over six feet tall, he doesn’t fit the image of a munchkin or diminutive sprite. In fact, he looks like a middle-aged dad. As I spy a few wispy white hairs on top of his head, I make a holiday wish: May we grow old together, sharing Christmas cheer for many years to come.

Years ago, I made the wisest decision of all: I married an elf.

I couldn’t survive the season without his boundless energy and loving heart.

You know, don't you, that every woman who reads this story hates you now and secretly hopes in their green-with-envy hearts that this is all fiction. :) I like the story but I have to wonder what's the point? It's a great description of a wonderful husband/father/elf and your family will love it, but I'm not sure there's a good readership for it. Now, if you changed the focus to the overstressed wife who doesn't have the Christmas spirit, and have the husband/elf start small and have her notice it, and then maybe be overcome by his joy that her heart joins in...? Also consider your audience. This is an LDS site, and although I didn't state it was an LDS magazine, you should still assume those values apply and switch the drink from Merlot to cocoa.

What I liked best: Some of your descriptions were really good.

Magazine ready? Technically, yes, but will get bumped for another story that will appeal to a larger group of readers.