The Christmas Elves
This and the next weekend are the only two weekends left before Christmas arrives.
Children will be opening presents and families and friends will be celebrating another year and their love for each other. It's an amazing thing to witness and be part of when people manage to come together exhibiting the very best of themselves in thoughtfulness, kindness and goodwill. It's like the whole of humanity is transformed, and there is a magical light shining on everyone, showing us all in our very best light.
One of the most endearing things about Christmas is the concerted effort to support and give further proof to the story of Santa Claus and his elves. Rather than Christmas shopping and jostling, and struggling to find value for the dollar, it is much more festive to think of those many cheerful little creatures constructing billions of toys to be ready before midnight strikes on Christmas Eve. It's a story that has been going on for centuries, building and changing with time. In North America, we see Santa Claus living at the North Pole where he is assisted by a large assembly of elves who have been working day and night all year long to prepare for this one magical day. While the story of Santa Claus has been shifting in recent time through poetry and art, elves are somewhat more ancient and unchanging in their depiction. In northern Europe, where cold winter nights must give rise to good stories of fairies, elves and other strange creatures, the children were regularly regaled with stories of these strange beings. The hidden folk, they were, living on the edge of reality, seeing all and very capable of handling themselves. Perhaps they played tricks. Perhaps they did worse.
And perhaps, just perhaps, they would bring gifts and carry out life-changing acts of kindness. While the Norse gods were slightly more distant from mere mortals, the hidden folk were more present, and more to be contended with. Often, they would be blamed for things that had gone missing, or strange sounds, perhaps more appropriately attributed to a drip in the wall, or the cracking of frost. Around the world there are stories of such hidden folk, each with their own characteristics reflective of the landscape of the culture in which they emerge. On dark winter nights, when families are gathered around the great fireplaces, and the world outside is filled with stars, moonlight, the shifting lights of the aurora borealis, and the flash of meteor showers, the stories told to children will depict small creatures with bright cheeks and noses, too quick to catch, but enjoying a cookie left untended, or teasing the cat who had been resting peacefully in a soft chair until something disturbed her.
To have a host of hidden folk nearby, to blame, or to lean upon to back up rules and philosophies, would be very handy for those people who lived in cold climates when winter descended. It never hurt to have too many pairs of eyes keeping an eye on the children, after all. Life would have been very strange too, and the magical northern lights, the shifting frost, the swirling winds, and the howling of the wolves, would have resulted in many strange dreams and nightmares, which in turn would have been transformed into stories.
What is strange that all cultures seem to have something which depicts the hidden folk who live among us, too fast to catch, but very present and responsible for so many things. It would be very handy to have the hidden folk on hand to explain for all otherwise inexplicable things. It's almost as if we need them in our lives, as a backup for the many deeds which need some other explanation than the one which would otherwise have to be given. The magic of Christmas is elevated and enhanced when we can point to a group of hidden folk who take on this one splendid event, and bring it all together. Surely no mortal person could accomplish something so magnificent, after all. It has to be someone else with magical powers.
The greatest of these elves at Christmas is Santa Claus himself.
The ancient stories of elves has been with us as long as there have been stories, and it is very likely that the hidden folk will be part of our lives long into the future, providing us with something else to focus on other than ourselves, or the dark nights beyond the walls.
Magical stories are fun to tell, and for children they are certainly fun to hear. So here's to all the elves out there.
Without you, a cold winter night would not be nearly as much fun.