By now, most people have heard of that over-priced monitor of pre-Christmas behaviour, the Elf on the Shelf. Though now highly marketable, the concept is by no means new. An elf called Winky has been with our family for a long time. I first became aware of his existence when I found his name printed in tiny letters on a box containing a doll I got for Christmas many decades ago. He dropped in periodically throughout the year to see if my brothers and I were being naughty or nice, but was most likely to show up in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Winky was, at that time, invisible to us, but the adults always knew when he was there. Once we became parents we were able to see him too, and his presence went a long ways towards keeping our next generation in line and shoring up faith in his boss – so much so that the Duke offspring stayed loyal to St. Nick long after their friends had given up on him.
This wasn’t because they were gullible. It was because of the promotion he received. You see, maintaining belief in the old boy involves more than consuming cocoa and cookies, peeling off price tags, and saying, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”. The imprints of sleigh runners and reindeer hooves out in the yard, the flue cover that was not quite back in place, the big brass button lying in the snow, these were but a few examples of hard evidence the kids came across.
And, of course, Winky played his part. When one of the next generation received a battery-operated car that failed to function on Christmas morning, it was Winky who left a replacement on the doorstep and wrote a note explaining how two naughty junior elves had broken it while playing.
Fulfilment of a request for a particular item worked wonders, too. After I read him The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, the youngest wanted to try Turkish delight. I could have obtained some locally, but since Santa had a travel agent friend who had just led a tour group through Turkey, he received the real thing in a wooden box with Turkish references all over it. Who but Santa could have got that? Or the “in” toy another kid desired? The one that was sold out all over town, but still appeared under the tree after a store received a surprise shipment just as Santa was there searching for a substitute.
As for the inevitable questions that occurred as belief started to waver, well, we have an excellent book on Christmas around the world. It explains how Santa doesn’t really travel around the whole world in one night, but starts visiting some countries on December 6th and finishes his rounds on January 6th. He also has helpers, like Italy’s Befana, and Holland’s Black Peter. And all those Santas in the mall don’t just sit around with their feet up on Christmas Eve. They’re out there restocking the sleigh and bringing in fresh teams of reindeer, horses, or whatever Santa uses in a particular country.
Questions like, “How does Santa get that big sack down our little chimney?” and “How does he make his reindeer fly?” were a little stickier, but the counter question, “How do you think he does it?” usually led to explanations that were very creative and satisfied the child who thought them up.
Once the kids grew up, Winky stopped coming around. He kept us on his list though, so as to return for the next generation’s next generation.
That’s how Christmas magic works.