It’s the first of December and children across the country are lining up at their local malls to sit on the lap of Santa Claus. Their parents are excited to take home the priceless ($25) photos and print them on Christmas cards. It brings back a lot of memories, and not just pleasant ones.
I was rejected as a mall elf.
I remember the first time I decided I should be Santa’s helper. I was shopping with a friend long before I even had a driver’s license, and took note of the line that seemed to fill the entire wing of the shopping center leading up to the big guy in red.
I don’t remember the elves looking particularly happy that they had fallen into this line of work as they plucked screaming children from the crowd and plopped them down on the lap of a strange old man flanked by two towering Christmas trees. Many of the children wailed as the flash went off before being sent on their way.
If I’m going to write this, I’m not going to lie. It was all about the costume for me — at least, it was at first.
The elves wore green dresses with thick belts and large buttons down the center. I may have romanticized the outfit after going home and stewing over it, but in my mind the buttons were gold and sparkly, and a white fur collar poked out from the neckline. Also, hats are kinda my thing.
With this new aspiration in mind, my friend and I jumped in line and waited our turn to get up to where the magic happened. I don’t remember feeling too old for this — until we sat together on Santa’s lap.
It didn’t matter. It was my chance.
I felt like Ralphie climbing back up the slide with the threat of missing his only chance to ask the magical man for a BB gun looming. I asked the head elf (the bossiest one) if I could apply to be a Santa elf too.
Just as Ralphie had been defeated with a “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid,” and booted down the slide, I was shuffled to the side and sent on my way to allow a turn for a child a third of my age.
That cotton-headed ninny muggins sent me home to submit my application online.
Which I did. Three years in a row.
Historically, the elf community has been perceived to be quite welcoming, so I was surprised when I didn’t hear back the first year.
The second year, I was older. I had secured an after-school job at a car dealership and missed my opportunity to say my first job was as an elf. I had spent many evenings babysitting and had been certified to perform CPR in school. Surely, I was more qualified. But no luck.
When I applied the third year, I didn’t expect to hear back. Maybe they kept my applications from the two previous years in a gift-like box with a large tag labeled “do not call.” It was possible I lacked the childcare experience needed to escort a tiny human from a parent’s arm to Santa’s lap. Maybe they had already determined that, like Buddy, I didn’t fit in in the elf world.
Instead, a decade later I find myself in a place much like the land of misfit toys: a newsroom.
Writers are weird people. Surely, just as weird as elves.
One reporter wiggles his fingers before he starts typing and another rubs his hands together like he’s trying to physically warm up to the idea of his story.
We have one that spends the afternoon calling the corporate office of his favorite coffee shop to report a Stevia outage while another spends it writing about her failed attempts at being an elf.
A full candy jar lasts less than 24 hours in a room with just a dozen of us. We produce something others enjoy on tight deadlines and we certainly work hard.
Maybe, just maybe, despite my repeated rejections, I somehow landed in my own version of a shopping center North Pole.