The unsung heroes of Christmas
This festive season we should perhaps spare a thought for the organisation behind the front man - Santa Claus. Often ignored and overlooked, it is the North Pole workforce which turns the wheels of Santa's Christmas machine and allows him to occupy such an important position in the Christmas celebrations. A band of workers who, despite the inhospitable climate and the increasingly sophisticated demands of children on their manufacturing processes, have never yet missed a delivery deadline.
An infant class was kind enough to avail me of what they knew of Santa's elves - the unsung heroes of the Christmas story.
The elves, it seems, are similar in appearance to fairy-tale elves. "The elves help Santa make the toys. They've got hats on and a beard like Santa and funny ears and green clothes. Santa tells them what to do. They are very kind to Santa."
"They've got very pointed ears. They come from the North Pole. Santa needs them because he doesn't have a lot of hands to carry presents all over the place."
The exact nature of the part played by the elves in the toy manufacturing process was vague, although there was a suggestion that the process was mechanised. "The elves put glitter on the presents and help put paper on them. Then the presents go down the chute and into the pile."
There was much greater detail concerning the general household duties of the elves. "They make him his dinner, lunch and breakfast. With each meal he gets hot chocolate to warm him up."
"The elves would have very warm covers ready for him and keep the doors closed in case a Polar bear comes in and frightens Santa."
Polar bears now make frequent appearances on Christmas cards, so it is not surprising they get incorporated into the Santa story. Other contemporary items can also be accommodated. Santa is truly a Father Christmas of the nineties. Even living at the North Pole, he is a potential victim of the environmental dangers of a modern lifestyle.
"The elves get his bed ready and put his candle on. They would change the sheets and they would hoover the bed. He might be allergic to something like dust mites."
"The elves hang the clothes up on a washing line and, since it's cold, the clothes would dry quite quickly, but they'd have to get them warm again for Santa and there is no electricity. They'd put the clothes under his bed cover to get them warm."
Santa's comfort, particularly in bed, is of some priority to the elves. Even the most genial big fellow might get a bit tetchy under the demands of Christmas if he wasn't getting a good night's sleep.
"At night the elves could go down to the clouds and get some of the fluffiness and put it in Santa's sheet and stuff it full and it would be nice and warm. He'd need a good night's sleep and in the morning he would be happy - he wouldn't be grumpy as if he'd had another late night making toys."
The elves also act as a gentleman's valet. Preparation of Santa's uniform is important. "If Santa's coat got ripped on the sledge from last year, the elves could sew it up. The elves could polish his boots for him and clean his clothes. They'd have a tub filled with water and they'd have to wash them by hand because there are no washing machines."
The elves are equipped with the technology to spot naughty children. That Santa gives nothing to naughty children or worse, leaves their parents a switch with which they can be beaten, is a consistent theme across a number of cultures.
"The elves have telescopes. They are special telescopes that Santa has put some magic dust on and the elves can look down them to see if we're being good."
Preparations for the actual Christmas delivery run are major items in the job description of Santa's elves. It is encouraging to note that health and safety matters are not overlooked. "The elves help Santa put the bags into the sleigh and help him put on his boots because he has to put on a lot of warm clothes before he goes out in the night because it will be very cold."
"Santa needs a torch because it gets dark early in the winter and it would be really, really dark at midnight. He needs to see where he is going. The elves would put batteries in the torch and polish it because then Santa would be able to see the button to press to turn the torch on."
"The elves make Santa's packed lunch for him. Santa gets things to eat or drink from all the children that he gives things to, so the elves just put in little things - not hot chocolate because it would soon be cold chocolate up in the sleigh. They'd give him small things like little sweeties you get in the Co-op in case he gets a sore throat because of the cold."
The amount of material to be loaded onto Santa's sleigh gave rise to the idea that the elves may also operate an airborne support unit. "The elves have their own sleighs and they can speak to each other when they go flying past. It is too many presents to fit them all into Santa's sleigh because the reindeers wouldn't be able to carry them. When Santa's sleigh starts to get empty, the elves fill it up again from their sleighs."
This mid-air refuelling of presents by the elves was not an uncontested view. Others felt that the luggage space in Santa's sleigh was expandable, as was the capacity of the reindeers to carry a heavier load. "No, Santa is magic and he just does some magic to make his sleigh extra strong and he can do the same with the reindeers. The elves don't have sleighs."
Santa's return to the North Pole is awaited with that keen interest shown in any returning airman from an operational mission. Apprehension or reservation gives way to revelry. "The elves would wait at the door to help him and take off his shoes because he'd be too busy taking off his jacket. The elves would make him a special chicken dinner because that's a good winter dinner. They'd all have dinner together. They'd sing songs like Jingle Bells and have fun."
The job finished, the celebrations complete, Santa can slip off to bed. "After the elves get his bed ready, Santa would go off to bed and the elves tidy up after the party. Then they'd all go to bed because it is very late. Everyone would be happy because they are finished work for quite a long time."
Ally Budge teaches at a Caithness primary school.