The elf service: a spell as Santa’s right-hand man

Sibling squabbling, beard pulling, and parents deciding what to call their newborn: a stint in Santa’s grotto is an eye-opener for a novice elf

Conor Pope as an elf at Santa’s Grotto in Avoca, Powerscourt House, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Eric Luke

Conor Pope as an elf at Santa’s Grotto in Avoca, Powerscourt House, Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Eric Luke

Mon, Dec 23, 2013, 01:00

When Santa’s people contacted me two weeks ago offering a sit-down to talk about the changing face of Christmas consumption and the challenges the great man has to deal with at this time of the year, it was too tempting to turn down.

Then they said the only way it would happen was if I would dress as an elf and help out in his grotto. So, with a heavy heart, I got out the uniform and headed to the Avoca shop in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow.

“Ho, ho ho,” Santa says – not unexpectedly – as he greets me. I am ordered to take a position at his right hand, and to wait for Mrs Claus to shepherd the first family through the door. He talks in a deep, booming voice. “Some of the children ask for the oddest things,” he says. “I had one child come in last week who asked for a set of keys, while another wanted an egg incubator to help him hatch chicks.”

Three children come through the door, ahead of their beaming parents. The children are not smiling. They look scared.

Eventually the oldest child, a boy, plucks up the courage to ask for a bike. This pleases Santa greatly. “He wants an X-Rated BMX, Santa,” his dad explains.

Santa nods wisely. The boy’s sister wants some wheels too, but is not so hung up on models. She will be happy with “a pinky-purple bike”.

The youngest child wants a desk. A bit utilitarian, surely? “For all your colouring?” Santa asks brightly. “I’d say you’re brilliant at colouring, aren’t you?” She shrugs in a non-committal way and the family leave. “I think that girls of a certain age are always artists and all their parents always think they are brilliant, so I am pretty safe saying that,” Santa says.

The next family come in, with a little boy and his infant sister. After dealing efficiently with the boy, Santa turns to the infant and asks for her name.” I dunno,” her mother responds, embarrassed. So Santa asks how old the baby is. “She’s old enough to have a name, Santa,” the mother says and turns to her husband. “Will we call her Alexandra?” He nods in agreement and the family make their way through the doors.


Take your tablets
A boy called Dan comes in and is desperate for a tablet. Santa asks him what kind of tablet? “A Google Nexus 7,” the child says immediately. Santa looks momentarily confused but recovers well enough to tell the boy it runs on the Android operating system. The child seems impressed.

“I have to keep up with my customers and some of them are getting very techie,” Santa tells me. “In the old days it used to be baking sets and train sets and now look at us,” he sighs. “Deary, deary me.”

Emma comes through the doors after Dan. She wants something pleasingly old-school: rollerskates. And a guitar. “What kind of guitar?” asks Santa with delight. “A Spanish guitar, I hope, and not one of these electric ones. You’re not going to be a rock girl are you?” he asks. Who knew Santa was so uncool?

There is a gap in the visits as other, more useful elves try to fix the grotto door handle, which somebody has pulled off moments earlier. We talk acting.

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