Last winter, this Features writer was dawning red and green, feeding plastic reindeer and coated in glitter. My experience as an elf started as my experience playing a witch ended. I thought spending most of my teenage Thursday nights at a drama school would have prepared me, made me fit for the role of Ginger the Elf. I could not have been further from the actual reality of being a student elf.
‘Tis is the season to be in a sweaty-scented elf costume for two months.
I swapped my black and purple pin-jammed witch costume at the under-the-table Christmas business I was working for. The business used sets and actors to create many ‘experiences’ for young children at Christmas time, Halloween and even Easter. It operated like a guided tour, repeated for hundreds of children and made its money off a photo session in the final stop on the tour. I was in my first year of college, young and naive, thinking it would be fun to bring the joy of Christmas to strange children at the beginning of November. My experience as a Halloween entertainer was heaven in comparison to it. Rarely a queue, tantrums from parents and children at a minimum and going for long walks in character trying to pass off flyers to anyone.
That all changed when the plastic reindeer and slay came out to play. It was the beginning of my heart shrinking two sizes and my complexion becoming a little green.
I feel like I am setting this up too negatively, so let’s take a step back. As much as I am not planning to return to my elf gig again, I made so many children and adults smile. And it was part of my job to see babies! Some of my favourite most relaxing moments came from the most chaotic place in the Christmas experience: the waiting room. There I got to sit with beaming children, hear about their Christmas lists, watch several Fortnite dance-offs, and colour with crayons.
I remember a quiet toddler holding my hand as they drifted off into a nap and a concerned mother asking me when I had last had a break and offering to buy me a sandwich.
I suppose the persona of Ginger the Christmas elf and the hope that I could make someone’s day that much better made me keep coming back. Every day I would hide my dark circles with concealer, slap on rosy cheeks and glitter, and fish around in a plastic bin for a costume that smelt that slight bit better.
The only time I wanted to quit was when someone drank my apple juice which I had hidden for energy. Know your f$%king place!
So, there I was, hiding my water bottle in my hat, chocolate for emergency energy and allowed one 15-minute break in a nine-hour day if they remember to relieve us from our station. Speaking of relieving, most of the elves avoided drinking water because elves were not encouraged to go to the bathroom. The team was as close to the real Santa’s operation as you could get.
Of course, this was the spark for most of the misfortunes to fall on Santa’s workshop. An overworked Ginger the elf fought with a nine-year-old over whether the plastic reindeer was real or not and nearly fell with grief to the hay covered floor when the child then proceeded to hit Rudolph to prove he was indeed not real. Spending eight hours a day in a room with eight faux fur reindeer creates some interesting friendships.
In the next room over, Ginger the elf also forgot to turn the snow machine off when the children entered. The white flakes sprinkling out of the machine turn to a spray of icy water and soaked everyone. Crying and panic ensued.
And in the final room of the experience, a small sauna made up to look like both a candy-cane and Santa’s bedroom, Ginger the elf guarded the tower of presents from sticky hands. The elf used problem-solving skills to decode which present under the wrapping was suitable for which child. My elf responsibilities somehow extended to putting Santa – with – a – bad – back’s boots on and off.
To conclude, was this the worst job ever? No. Did I still enjoy that Christmassy feeling after two weeks? I was drained after spending nine-hour days in slippers with no arch support, to put it lightly. What I hope readers take away from this Feature is to be patient and show some empathy with seasonal workers: we are not elves because we wear a costume.