The Christmas Elves traditionally arrive at Highclere on December 1st but this is not a usual year and they have arrived early to give us a head start. Traditionally, elves are sent by Santa Claus from the North Pole on a special mission to keep an eye on us all and how we all behave in the lead up to Christmas. Often, by this time of year, perhaps not quite as well as we should be.
Conventionally they wear green or red outfits with large, pointy ears. They spend much of the rest of the year making toys in Santa’s workshop and taking care of his reindeer. Some people think this workshop is in a hidden place in Lapland, others that is located in a distant part of Canada. Wherever it is, there is obviously not only a factory but also a major distribution hub to rival Amazon’s biggest operation as well.
Part of the reason that we do not know where the elves live is because they are related to the hidden folk of Norse mythology, the “álfar”, also known as “huldufólk”, (the hidden folk). Santa Claus is the chief elf, “chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf” to quote from the poem “The night before Christmas”.
Sally in the gift shop is Highclere’s Chief Christmas Elf, wearing tinsel to keep her in a suitable frame of mind and working ceaselessly. The other name for Sally and her team is “nisse” which may be derived from the old Norse “niðsi”, meaning “dear little relative”. Sally knows she constantly needs more relatives and more help. This past week in particular she has been calling in extra elves as it all became rather busy as the Castle was decorated. She was particularly thrilled that the reindeer elves arrived as Highclere’s herd is now gathered on the lawns outside the Castle.
Sally knows that no two elves are the same: some are smaller than a baby dormouse while others are bigger than the biggest Christmas tree. Each elf has its own name and special duties and they are very difficult to spot because of their extremely rapidly running legs and silent movements. In fact, humans can only see elves when the elves themselves actually want to be seen, which is probably why whenever Sally needs her elves, she can never find them. Sally’s legs get quite tired looking for her elves.
Paul Shiny Upatree is a very reliable elf for Sally with his reverence and knowledge of nature (he is a gardener) and he helps her most days.
James the Giggling Elf was supposed to make stands for Christmas trees but he was often invisible when he was most needed, whilst John the Manager Limerick Elf was never invisible and, as with his traditional characteristics, he played pranks if he was not happy. Sally, Chief Elf, knows that Bolly Christmas Mantleshelf Elf and Sonny Garland Elf are very steady and not too tall and not too small, in fact, practically perfect in every day.
All the elves think that traditions are very important and “nisse” never like changes in the way things have always been done. The colours of all the decorations this year match the elves, being red and green. Some of the elves wear tops with lights on them which is very useful as Luis the quick elf runs so fast you can never see him. Eorl Alabaster Snowball elf (Geordie) is highly intelligent and the only elf at the North Pole with two university degrees, one from Oxford and the other from his wife.
Sally has long planning lists to bring order and harmony into December’s world, from decorating all the Christmas trees, the rooms inside and out, brushing the reindeer every day and wrapping all the gifts being posted to all the best people. Every day there are more lists to dispatch:
Biscuits and books
Presents for cooks
Scarves and ginger jars
Pens and pads for writing memoirs
Trays and tea,
Gifts to open with glee.
And so, Sally and her elves have very little spare time until Christmas Day. That is a special day reflecting on all they have done and thinking what they can do and how they can live well in the next year. At the end of the day, just like in the Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, they say together:
“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future”.