Charlie was the best Christmas elf anyone at the mall had ever seen. He was gentle and kind with a flair for making everyone laugh from little babies to grumpy dads stuck shopping for hours longer than the five minutes they could handle. This, of course, helped parents get the best possible photos of their kids… unless you prefer the photos of kids crying, which are hilarious when the kids are grown up, but in the moment, they’re not so appreciated. Charlie had been an elf for eight Christmases now, and yet he was continually finding new ways to make people smile. He’d frequently use his favourite jokes and magic tricks, but he was very quick witted and was regularly making new jokes and learning new tricks in his off time to share with people. He was so good at his job, he had the record for being given the most phone numbers by single moms… and not so single moms. Charlie was also the only employee to never get sick, which was surprising when he was the total opposite of a germaphobe. He was quick to help even the snottiest nose kids feel better. His bosses weren’t sure what kept him so healthy unlike others whether it was his jolly spirit or his obsession with home remedies like his daily doses of oil of oregano and cups of water with dissolved baking soda. Either way, they loved how dependable this made him, which was on top of being the best elf at getting kids to smile for pictures. This made it particularly difficult for them to disappoint Charlie as they said no to his yearly request. You see, despite all of the praise Charlie received as an elf, every year he applied to be Santa because that was his dream since childhood. As a young boy, there was one particular year where his family was struggling financially, but a man dressed as Santa randomly showed up at their front door on Christmas to give him and his sister presents they would never have even dreamed of asking for. Somehow, this man heard about their situation and his generosity changed Charlie’s life forever. Unfortunately, Charlie wasn’t able to be a mall Santa because he was too short. This wasn’t an ‘I’ll sue you for discrimination’ kind of thing, after all, the staff loved him, but it was the fact that his legs were too short for kids to safely sit on his knees. It was actually a liability situation where the mall didn’t want any children to get hurt. This year when Charlie applied for the Santa position he showed his bosses how he could use mannequin legs for the kids to sit on while he stood behind them like they were his own. He even made an outfit to hide what he was doing. Admittedly, it worked well, but his bosses still said no because it seemed too weird.
Unfortunately for Charlie, his short stature may have added to his brilliance as an elf, but it also added to his passion for being Santa. You see, he was always the shortest kid in his class growing up, and he fervently believed that people would only respect him if he was either taller than them or in a position of power. Since he couldn’t significantly change his height and he was too kind to be a savvy entrepreneur, his only option was to be in a position people admired that didn’t require him to hurt others. Unfortunately, as joyful and accepting as Charlie was of everyone else, he struggled to accept his own shortcoming (yes, that’s a pun). The only consolation for Charlie was every Christmas Day he dressed up in his own Santa outfit and gave gifts to kids in the hospital. It was the grand ending to his favourite time of year, and the one time he was able to be Santa, which, in his eyes, was the one time that made him someone worth caring about.
Than one foggy Christmas Eve day, Charlie’s bosses came to say, “All the Santas are too sick to work; we’re screwed!” The store didn’t have a Santa to be in the photos for the hoards of families lined up for last minute pictures. Charlie begged his bosses to let him do it and brought out his mannequin legs to remind them how he could do it safely. His bosses were desperate and said yes. Charlie’s idea worked perfectly. His legs never got sore from kids sitting on them, and by standing, he had greater leverage to help kids up onto his knees. Plus, he had a literal ankle biter and he was completely safe because it was the mannequin the kid was biting.
This was a momentous day. Charlie had done it. He was finally in the position he dreamed of having since he was a kid. He was finally someone everyone would care about. People wouldn’t look down on him for being short or for being just an elf. He was the mall Santa, the King of Christmas, and yet… he hated it. Charlie wasn’t allowed to joke and have fun like he did as an elf because there wasn’t time. He’d have to listen to the kids tell him what they wanted while he just bit his tongue. Any time he tried to joke the management would point to a clock; he had a job to do, and being funny wasn’t part of that. What made it even worse was there wasn’t an elf there who could get the kids laughing like he did. The other elves had always relied on him to do all the greetings and silly things to get the kids to smile. Not only was it awful for him to see so many unhappy children, the parents were complaining that they had heard this was the best place to get the photo done because the pictures always ended up with extra happy children. Sure, people were tired and stressed with it being Christmas Eve day, but Charlie had always been able to get people laughing no matter how bad it was. Now he was stuck watching people be miserable, and he wasn’t allowed to do anything about it. He was supposed to be the King of Christmas… and yet, he felt like a prisoner behind his beard and hat. He had wanted to be seen as something more than himself; he wanted to feel important and now he realized that he had been all along. He just didn’t appreciate what he had because he was too busy wishing for something else. It suddenly dawned on him that being Santa had never really been about how other people saw him because they had already appreciated him; it was actually about how he saw himself. He had been blind all of these years by his insecurity. Being Santa is a great privilege, but Santa is only as good as his elves, and Charlie made his Santa’s look amazing. He didn’t need to be the King of Christmas; he just needed to appreciate himself the way he should.
Christmas Eve day dragged on for Charlie, but it eventually ended. Charlie’s bosses told him he did really well, but they clearly weren’t as thrilled with the day as they normally were when he was an elf. He was good as a Santa, but he was great as an elf. He knew with practice he could be great at being Santa, but he didn’t care anymore. He wanted to be where he made the biggest difference and that wasn’t behind the mannequin legs that allowed him to be the mall Santa. Charlie’s power came from behind the camera and he was excited to realize that he could be happy with himself for who he was. He could be happy that he was short because that helped him be better at what made him great.
The next day, like every Christmas, Charlie went to the hospital to give presents to the sick kids there, but this year instead of being Santa, he was Charlie the Christmas Elf. He made everyone smile from the crankiest baby to the most worn out parents. Charlie may not have been the “King” of Christmas, but he helped everyone there laugh and feel like life wasn’t so bad, which was the greatest gift he could give. He didn’t need to be the King; he just needed to help others feel valued, which started with him valuing himself.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people