The Tale of Holly the Christmas Elf

There is an elf named Holly. Like most elves, Holly has long pointy ears. But, unlike most elves, for much of her life, Holly had the honour of working for Santa Claus.

Yes, Holly is a Christmas elf—and, because she is a Christmas elf, she has vibrant red hair, and her face is laden with freckles. She is also kind-hearted, of generous spirit, and a very hard worker.

For many years, Holly toiled away for jolly old Saint Nicholas. Centuries, in fact. She started her position at the North Pole in year 1324, and she only just retired in 1954. Blimey! That’s six hundred and thirty years!

For the sake of her privacy and solitude, which Holly now truly enjoys, I have promised to keep the location of her retirement home secret. For the purposes of our story, all you really need to know is this: Holly moved into an old abandoned cottage in the middle of the woods, somewhere on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.

Having spent so much of her life in the North Pole’s forever Winter, she had grown tired of seeing the snow year-round. Although she didn’t want to lose Winter altogether, she was craving some change, a turning of the Wheel. And here, in her woodland cottage, Holly could witness and appreciate each of the four seasons…

Naturally, her retirement began after Christmas of 1953, during the Wolf Moon, the first Lunar Cycle of 1954. And she began to live through, not just Yule, but the entire Wheel of the Year:

Candlemas welcomed the new Solar cycle and promised Spring. And then, of course, came Ostara, delivering Candlemas’ promise. The equinox brought new life: little birds twittering as they built their nests, bunny-rabbits hopping from brambly bush to brambly bush, chasing one another; bees buzzing as they worked busily to pollinate the flowers and brew their honey.

Of course, Beltane followed shortly after, turning the forest into a garden of every colour of the rainbow. And then Midsummer was the polar opposite of Yule, being the Summer Solstice: the longest day, and the shortest night.

Lammas brought the first harvest of Holly’s garden: potatoes, carrots and corn. Mabon—the Autumn Equinox—brought the second: squashes and mushrooms. And Hallow’s Eve was, not only the third and final harvest, but where the wheel ended.

Following Hallow’s Eve was Yule—the Winter Solstice. This spoke on the Wheel left the forest covered in a thick blanket of snow. The Christmas elf was all too familiar with this, but she enjoyed the snow more now that she trusted it would eventually leave. While she distracted herself with good books and hot cocoa, time was passing, the Wheel was turning, and Spring was drawing nearer and nearer.

Spring, Summer and Autumn—these seasons she hadn’t known while working for Santa. And, for this reason, Holly liked retirement.

That was until she grew restless. It took seventy years, but it did happen: she did eventually find herself bored. Yes, the Vancouver Island forest was beautiful. And the cottage—which she had fixed up with her own elven magic—was cozy. But Holly was an elf!

Elves are craftsmen; they like to busy their hands and make things. Actually, I will amend my statement to this: elves need to busy their hands and make things. For some elves, this means crafting bows and arrows, swords and shields, athames and daggers, and the like; while other elves tend to a garden, and then brew all sorts of magical concoctions, both for taste and for health. (I, myself, have met many elves who are herbalists. And, just recently, one treated the swelling in my right foot with some turmeric she had grown herself!)

There are many different kinds of elves in the world, and therefore, there are many different kinds of crafts they can while away their days Mastering. Now, Holly is a Christmas elf. And while she had enjoyed tending to her garden and cooking in her kitchen, year after year, a certain longing inside of her had been growing and growing: the longing to make toys for children.

“Dash it all!” Holly snapped suddenly, throwing down her knitting. “I like knitting and all, but it breaks my heart knowing that Christmas comes tomorrow and, once again, I will have given nothing to the children.”

Holly glanced down at the foot of the fireplace where lay the first sock she had knit. Then she looked at her Christmas tree, decorated with her handmade ornaments. And then back at the sock.

“Goodness! The children don’t want socks for Christmas!” How Holly could’ve, even for a moment, considered such a thing, was beyond her.

(It is very fortunate for me, however, that children do not appreciate socks as presents. The pair Holly was knitting by the fire that evening ended up being my present that year. What was unfortunate, however, was how these socks were so small, they only fit my big toe.)

Holly threw up her hands and gave her head a shake. “Santa’s beard!” she cried, “Am I an elf or not?!” Then, just as she had when she fixed up her cottage, she used her elven magic to make some toys.

It was just like the good old days in Santa’s workshop; her dainty little hands were joyfully busy and her heart was singing merrily! Of course, she would not have time to make something for every child in the world. ’Twas already Christmas Eve!

But maybe all of the children in Victoria? Sure, there are towns closer to Holly’s cottage (which I still refuse to give you the location of!) But Holly had always wanted to see Victoria. She understood that the city was quite the tourist destination.

It was hard work, making all those toys. Much harder than knitting my socks, which she also finished that night.

Actually, maybe that was it: maybe the sheer amount of focus it required to make almost 100,000 toys was the very thing to cause Holly to forget that a pair of socks perfectly sized for her little elven feet were not going to be fit for her full-sized human neighbour.

But I digress! Holly crafted nearly 100,000 toys on that fateful Christmas Eve: from rocking horses and tricycles, to hanging mobiles and model airplanes; from wind-up cars and Jack-in-the-boxes, to model trains and teddy bears and baby-dolls and lettered blocks!

Her small cottage never got full because, as Holly worked, upon finishing each toy and tying it with a bow, she stuffed the gift away in a big brown sack. And, much like Santa’s, the sack had been charmed to hold an infinite amount of things.

Once done her work, she let out an audible breath. It feels so satisfying to have made these toys for the children, she reflected. I know I am retired, but, for some strange reason, I feel that, this year, I must return to the work forces and help bring Christmas to fruition!

Then Holly put out her fire and blew out her candles; she was about to leave her familiar meadow and embark on her quest.

Sure, she could write Santa and ask him to come collect her works, deliver them himself. But would Santa receive her letter in time? Holly didn’t want to risk it! Besides, the retired Christmas elf really did want to see Victoria.

(I can’t blame her. I grew up in the city and it really is beautiful—all throughout the Wheel of the Year, yes—but especially during Yule. I was always telling Holly to go, to take herself on a little vacation.)

Furthermore, Holly had never actually seen the faces of the children who she had spent so many years, so many centuries, making toys for. In her heart, the elf knew that, Christmas morning after Christmas morning, she had made millions of children smile. And yet, she had never actually seen their smiles.

Holly may lack reindeer—however, I have a rather peculiar deer as a familiar. And I live very close by, in my own cottage, in the glade nearest. (Another reason I must keep the location of Holly’s cottage a secret: to keep the location of my own neighbouring cottage a secret!)

Now, at this time, I was in Victoria, myself, visiting my family and friends. But Holly trusted that I would not mind if she borrowed Buttercup for such a noble journey. And Buttercup, having already embarked on many brave and noble quests, is always ready for the next adventure.

When I say that Buttercup is peculiar, what I mean is: he is a full-sized deer, complete with the antlers that dub him a buck—and yet, like a fawn, he is still covered in speckles. But that is a different story…

Once Holly had decided that she would take Buttercup, the elf cried, “I mustn’t forget about my dear neighbour!” And she ran back to her fireplace to gather her knitting. Quickly, she used her elven magic to finish the second sock. (She had been knitting them the mundane way before, which is much less effort, but takes much longer.) Finally, she wrapped the socks with a bow of red and green.

Then she fastened her warm, evergreen-coloured coat and slipped on her snow boots, and she hauled her sack of presents—which my socks rested at the top of—over to my cottage.

Holly made her way inside. Buttercup was sitting in what is normally my easy chair, warming himself by the hearth. Because Holly is an elf, she can communicate with all forest creatures. Therefore, the very moment she walked in the door, Buttercup knew what she was asking of him.

I’m not so sure that this will go how she’s expecting, Buttercup thought to himself, but I’ll do anything for Holly. And so, after Holly laid her gift for me under my tree, Buttercup put out his fire, and the two friends made their way outside.

The forest was particularly dark, what with both the shortest day and the longest night of the year having just passed. But neither the elf nor the deer were afraid. Buttercup led Holly round back, to where I store my wooden sled.

Holly attached the sled to Buttercup’s collar. Then she loaded the sled up with her giant sack of toys. She found a place for herself in front of it, and she nestled into the cushion of the sack, like it was an easy chair.

Buttercup turned back, to give Holly a ready nod. Then the elf said, “On, Buttercup! To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall! Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

And, by use of Holly’s elven magic, Buttercup was lifted up high in the air, pulling the sled along with him.

Buttercup hardly thought it necessary for Holly to have chanted ‘Dash away all!’, as he was but one deer. He thought that, perhaps, Holly should have chanted, ‘Dash away one!’

But that wouldn’t have rhymed—and Holly felt the rhyming was vital. She wanted to be sure that she got the magic words right—Santa’s magic words.

Clearly, this prudence had proven itself worthwhile, for they were now soaring through the Starry sky, high above the tallest trees.

This wasn’t Buttercup’s first adventure. And it certainly wasn’t his most dangerous one. Nor was it the one with the highest stakes. He felt no fear.

On the contrary, Holly was a Christmas elf. For much of her life, all she had known was Santa’s workshop. She had spent her days, not embarking on grand and noble quests like Buttercup, but building toys and eating cookies. Before this expedition, the most exciting thing she had done was retire. For her, being so high in the air was a little frightening.

But it was also exhilarating! As Buttercup directed the sled towards Victoria, Holly stared down the whole way, watching as, slowly but surely, the tiny trees turned into tiny townhouses.

*

When at last the two friends reached the city, Buttercup landed them in front of a very large, stone-cold grey building.

“What’s this?” Holly asked, rather put off by the building’s modern architecture.

Buttercup answered, informing her that this was a shopping mall. No, I never have and never will take the deer to a mall. Still, I had told him about shopping malls, and about how I hate being inside of them.

“But surely there won’t be any children in there!” Holly remarked. “It looks like such a dull, dreary, depressing place. Oh, how un-Christmasy!”

On the contrary, this is where many of the children were. And where even more of their parents were. For it was Christmas Eve, and if you, like me, are familiar with these modern day Christmases, then you are likely familiar with how the vast majority of folk leave their shopping to the last minute.

But then you are also familiar with how this is not really anyone’s fault, as many people do not get holiday time—or, if they do, often, it doesn’t start until Christmas Day.

The mundane world is such a busy one. With so much hustle and bustle, how is one supposed to find the time for Christmas spirit? Why do you think I moved into my cottage in the woods? And why do you think I keep the location of said cottage secret?

While Buttercup had never been to a mall, many a time he had heard me rant about them, in one of my frequent fire-side ramblings about the failings of Western civilization. So, when he led Holly into the large, ugly grey building, he knew what to expect. Holly, however, found the ugly artificial lighting to be quite a shock!

But the elf focused on why she was there: and she approached a small group of children.

Holly reached into her sack and pulled out a tricycle, striped red and white like a candy cane. Then she held the gift out to one of the children and sang, “Merry Christmas!”

The child rocked his head backward and squinted skeptically at Holly.

“Merry Christmas?” she repeated.

The boy put his hands on his hips and said, “Wow, these costumes sure are getting good. I almost thought you were a real elf.”

“I am a real elf,” Holly assured him, still holding the tricycle out towards the boy.

“Drop the act! I’m old enough to know you’re not really an elf.”

“Oh, but I am!”

Suddenly, the boy was laughing hysterically. “Wait!” he managed in between cackles, “You actually—think you are—a real elf?”

“Was this the only job you could get, midget?” one of the other children said menacingly.

After all five of the children had a good laugh, one of them said, “Come on, guys. Let’s go to the skateboard shop.” And they walked away.

The interaction had left Holly puzzled and bewildered.

But certainly not all of the children of today are under this curse, Holly thought, finding her optimism. Certainly those were just a few bad apples from the Naughty List.

Buttercup, who could read Holly’s thoughts, gave Holly a morose look; for, time and time again, he had heard me complain about the evils of modern-day life, and about the evils of late-stage capitalism.

Holly, too, could read Buttercup’s thoughts. But she needed to find out for herself: How was the Christmas spirit? Was it still healthy and strong? Or had it been tainted by this ‘capitalism’ (whatever that was), just as Buttercup was suggesting?

The elf set off further into the mall to investigate. All around her there was colour and noise. Never had Holly been so overwhelmed, so overstimulated. Sure, the North Pole could be a loud and busy place, as it was always festive. But not like this: not with great big signs that read ‘BUY NOW!’

There was Christmas music, yes—but it was all wrong! Who was this female singer belting out Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and why were they so out of time?

And what on Earth was with these plastic Christmas trees? Why were they merely covered in blue lights and sparkly pieces of plastic? Where were the handmade ornaments? And, most importantly, why were there not any toys beneath them?

There certainly was an emphasis on the gifts however. For each shop seemed to be stressing that everyone get their shopping done—that everyone BUY, BUY, BUY!

However, these stores were not toy shops; they were anything but!

There were an abundant amount of shops selling clothing, accessories, makeup, skincare, and hair products. What was most disturbing to Holly was how young the girls in these shops were. Why, they were just children!

Holly approached a young girl in a make up store. The girl couldn’t have been more than ten years of age, if that.

“Merry Christmas!” Holly greeted her. “What did you ask Santa for this year?”

The girl seemed to suppress a laugh; “Santa? Oh, no… I don’t ask Santa for gifts… not anymore…”

This shocked Holly; “No? Why not?”

The girl smiled at Holly. “Well, does Santa make false eyelashes? Or, better yet, does he give money for eyelash extensions?”

“Is this for next year’s Halloween costume?” Holly asked, curious.

“What? No.”

“Then why would you want eyelash extenders?”

“Eyelash extensions,” the girl corrected. And then she threw her hands up in the air. “Ugh! Because my eyelashes are so short and pale and ugly!”

Holly examined the girl’s eyelashes. They hardly looked short and pale, and they weren’t at all ugly. In fact, Holly thought the girl was quite beautiful, what with her long golden-blonde hair and her icy blue eyes.

“But wouldn’t you rather something fun for Christmas, like…” Holly began rummaging through her sack. “…Like a teddy bear?”

And she held the teddy bear out to the girl. It was soft as the new-fallen snow, as it was handmade from a fluffy brown material. What completed it was its two button eyes and its little red bow.

The girl gave Holly a pitiful look. “But how is a stuffed bear supposed to make me beautiful?”

“It’s not,” Holly answered earnestly.

The elf was very confused. The girl was already beautiful; why did she feel the need for these ‘eyelash extenders’ to make her so? And furthermore, why was beauty what this child was so concerned with? Wasn’t now the time for having fun?

Just then, interrupting her thoughts, the shopkeeper came and shooed Holly out of the store; “We can’t have a deer in the mall!”

Holly made her exit, but she hardly saw the issue with Buttercup’s presence. So, the elf kept up with her investigation.

There was a kiosk that sold weird technological gadgets. These were inventions of the twenty-first century, and nothing Holly was familiar with. Next to the kiosk, stood a boy and girl—siblings, presumably.

The brother looked a little older than his sister, perhaps about the age of the girl in the makeup shop. “Mom and Dad better buy me the new iPhone,” he was saying to his sister. “My current phone is ancient!”

Holly didn’t know what an ‘eye Phone’ was. She had heard of telephones, but not eye phones. Did an eye phone allow you to, not merely hear, but see the other person, as well?

“Maybe,” Holly said, approaching the children and reaching into her sack, “you would prefer a model train?”

The boy was so startled by a stranger approaching him—and by an elf no less—that he could not find any words.

“It’s not an eye Phone,” Holly explained further, “but it sure is neat!”

Quickly, she assembled the train and its track; because of her elven magic, she was able to do this in mere seconds.

“Now, this train-set was designed to look electronic,” Holly explained, as the cars went chugga-chugga around the track. “But, in actuality, the train does not run on electricity; it runs on the magic of Christmas—just as all of the train sets from Santa’s shop do.” The elf finished her presentation with a great sense of pride.

For a moment, the siblings merely stared at Holly—before bursting out in laughter.

“What’s so funny?” Holly asked sincerely.

The brother stopped laughing to answer Holly, “What’s funny is that you want us to believe that this model train runs on ‘the magic of Christmas’ and that you are an elf.”

“But this model train really does run on the magic of Christmas, and I really am an elf.”

The sister, who must have been only about seven years of age, said, “You’ve got a good costume, I must admit.” And she yanked on Holly’s long, pointy ears.

“Ouch!” Holly shrieked.

The sister jumped back at least a yard, bumping into the kiosk as she did; “What?! Those ears don’t come off?!”

“Of course, not!” Holly confirmed, tenderly rubbing her elven ears. “I am one of Santa’s elves! I mean, I was one of Santa’s elves, up until I retired.”

Unlike his sister, the brother wasn’t frightened. “Oh, come on—you can’t expect us to believe in Santa!”

These last words horrified Holly. The girl at the makeup store might have been okay, but these two children were definitely on the Naughty List. Oh, how could she get them to believe in Santa?

She did not have time to figure this out, however; for the woman who worked at the kiosk had called security, and the guard was now tapping Holly on the shoulder and telling her and Buttercup that they had to leave.

Once Holly had packed up her model train, she began her exit. But on her way out of the mall, she saw store that sold something called ‘video games’.

“I don’t know what video games are,” Holly said to Buttercup, “but I sure do love games! Surely, the children in this store will enjoy my toys!”

Buttercup thought it might be best to just leave. But, being such a loyal deer, he followed Holly into the shop.

Once Holly was inside the shop, she was very confused. There were lots of children, yes. But they weren’t playing together. Instead, they were all staring at what Holly knew to be a television—a very large television.

One boy, who must have only been about five years old, was holding a weirdly-shaped plastic object in both of his hands. The weirdly-shaped, plastic thing had a long plastic string, tying it to a black plastic box that sat just below the television.

Is this a video game? Holly wondered. Because, if it is, then video games are horrendous—maybe even more horrendous than the notion of not believing in Santa Claus!

For the images on the screen were violent. Over and over again, a gun was being fired. And over and over again, bodies were collapsing.

“My parents better get me this video game for Christmas!” the kid holding the weirdly-shaped plastic thing cried out in a terrible joy.

Well, thought Holly, at least this boy is wise enough to know that Santa would never have us elves craft something like this!

Still, the elf felt that this game was not an appropriate Christmas present—for anyone really—let alone a child this young.

Holly figured she’d give it one more try: she reached into her sack, cleared her throat and said, “Excuse me, little boy, but wouldn’t you rather a Jack-in-the-Box?” And she winded up the handle until—Pop!—Jack sprang out of the box.

The boy was so taken aback that he lost his focus and stopped hitting different parts of the weird little piece of plastic with his thumbs. Soon the screen read ‘GAME OVER’ in spooky, Halloween-like letters.

“Hey!” the boy screamed, “You made me lose!”

“But wouldn’t it be better to play with Jack anyway?” Holly suggested, smiling.

“No!” the boy wailed, “I only like video games!”

“But it’s so violent,” Holly pointed out, shuddering.

“I love violence!” the boy shrieked, already starting another round of the video game.

This time, neither the shopkeeper nor security had to tell Holly to leave. The elf felt like an old balloon, once so full of air, but now deflated. No, the Christmas spirit wasn’t healthy, not anymore. And Holly hadn’t made a single child smile. It was time to make the long journey home to her woodland cottage, fix herself a cuppa hot cocoa, sit by the fire, and attempt to rekindle her own spirit.

On her way out of the store however, Holly overheard two adults talking…

“Oh dear,” one of the adults, a woman, said, “Timmy sure is set on getting that game for Christmas—but we don’t have the money for the game—let alone the console!”

“Should we just put it on the credit card, dear?” the other adult, a man, said. “No, we can’t afford it… all the same, do we want Timmy to wake up and look under the tree, only to be disappointed?”

Much like ‘capitalism’, Holly didn’t know what a ‘console’ or a ‘credit card’ was. Still, the stress of Timmy’s parents was crystal clear.

Then the woman broke out in tears and cried, “It’s such a shame! This isn’t what Christmas is supposed to be about!”

No, it’s not! Holly agreed privately.

So, she wasn’t the only one feeling disappointed by the state of the Christmas spirit. Were the parents of the boy asking for the eye phone feeling similar? And what about the parents of the girl asking for eyelash extenders?

“I cannot go home yet,” Holly said to Buttercup suddenly. “My work here is not done. I am needed—now more than ever.”

Holly found her way to the very centre of the mall, where the largest Christmas tree stood. What she did next frightened her, much more than flying high in the night sky, but she knew this had to be done, and she, a Christmas elf, had to be the one to do it.

Holly began to make a speech. And she used her elven magic to carry her little elfin voice all throughout the mall…

“Residents of Victoria, celebrators of Christmas! Hear ye, hear ye! My name is Holly and I am one of Santa’s elves. Well, I was. Speaking officially, I am retired now. But, for some strange reason, this year, I felt the urge to work. So, I handcrafted toys—enough for every child in Victoria—and I came here with my deer friend, Mister Buttercup, to deliver them.

“Now that I’ve spent some time in the city, however, I know the reason why I felt so inspired to work. The Christmas spirit is not in a healthy state, and fate would have it that I come here to remind you of the true meaning of Christmas. I would not normally speak so bluntly, but the situation is dire.

“I should have, not made you toys, but knitted you socks; for many of you have forgotten that Christmas isn’t about getting eyelash extenders or eye phones or violent video games. In fact, Christmas isn’t about receiving presents at all. What Christmas is really about is this:

“Winter is a cold and dark season. The days are short and the nights are long. The snow falls, and it falls, and it falls—until the world is fast asleep, tucked under a blanket of white. In the North Pole, where I am from, it is always this way. So, us elves know more than anyone, that the way you get through such a season is by loving one-another—by giving love freely and generously—loving each other all the way through Winter—that is what Christmas is all about.”

The last-minute shoppers had all gathered round and were listening to Holly. Some were moved by her speech, and some weren’t. It was a good speech, but, as a writer myself, I know that taste is very subjective.

And Holly knew, for the people she had gotten through to, she had made their Yuletide season much more special, reminding them that Christmas is not about receiving material things, but about bringing joy to one another.

Security did force Holly to leave, however. Once again, you really cannot have a deer, a wild animal, in the mall. But this time, Holly didn’t mind; her work here was done. And Buttercup was very ready to leave, himself.

Before making their long journey home, Holly and Buttercup sat on one of the benches outside, reflecting on their adventure.

“Even though the children didn’t want the toys, I’m still glad I made them,” Holly said. “And I’m still glad we came, as there were people in the mall who really needed to hear my speech.”

A voice—a familiar voice—sounded from behind her: “Ho! Ho! Ho! I’m sure I could find homes for those toys!”

Holly whipped around excitedly; “Santa?!”

Sure enough, it was Santa—and his eight reindeer.

Santa stepped closer to Holly and said, “I’m proud of you, Holly—and grateful for your efforts. Recent Christmases have gotten more and more materialistic, and more and more commercial, and less and less about love. I imagine that would be a startling contrast, as you haven’t worked since 1953! I’m glad you didn’t let the shock crush your own Christmas spirit though. We need Christmas spirit now more than ever. So, from the bottom of my red and green heart, thank you.”

Holly beamed from one pointy ear to the other. And she let Santa take her sack of toys and place it next to his own. He promised her that he would give the toys to the children on the Nice List—the grateful children.

“I hope you can truly enjoy your retirement now,” Santa said, winking.

And, all too soon, he was on his way again: “…Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”

The snow then began to fall; and Holly and Buttercup, too, flew off into the Starry night sky. On their return journey, Holly reflected on how, yes, she knew the true meaning of Christmas; but did she know the meaning of the other spokes on the Wheel of the Year?

*

It was Beltane; Spring had come, truly. First, Candlemas brought the mere promise that the Wheel would turn and the seasons would shift. Then, Ostara brought new life: from her kitchen window, Holly watched six robins hatch out of their speckled, pale blue eggs. By and by, the forest was filled with all sorts of creatures, ready to play.

Holly now spends her days exploring the forest. Often, she joins me and our other friends for tea in my cottage. Actually, she told me her tale over tea, and I listened. Only once she was done, did I ask her if I could write the story down and add it to my treasury of folklore. (And by the way, she’s not at all offended that I gave those socks to the mice who live in my walls, to use as sleeping bags.)

Holly still loves the Yuletide season; Christmas will always be in her heart. However, she is now learning the meaning of the other seasonal quarters and cross quarters. Like the Wheel, itself, Holly is becoming a very well-rounded elf; and she is, indeed, truly enjoying her retirement.