The flatbed truck was lined with hay bales for riders (including several of my friends and I) to sit or stand upon so we could greet crowds lining the downtown streets of Golden, Colorado. The vehicle crawled along Main Street as part of a celebratory parade announcing the arrival of the Christmas Season. The truck occasionally stopped and allowed photo ops for, and with, the gathered spectators.
This is a lively event that thousands of people look forward to every year at the beginning of December. It is full of music, food, and entertainment. I unashamedly admit I love being part of the excitement. It may seem odd to some but you see, my friends and I – well, we’re elves. Yes, you read it correctly – elves.
The elf troupe has been blessed to be part of the holiday celebrations in Golden and the surrounding area for over five years. Our job description is varied but primarily consists of playing with the crowd, waving from floats, taking pictures with willing kids and their family members, as well as spreading all around playful cheerfulness.
We have been at the center of these crowds on many occasions. And for the most part, I am at home in the performance arena while hanging out with thousands of strangers. But this year was different. Our country had broken out in an epidemic of violent attacks on innocent citizens, mostly in crowds of some sort. The nightly news was littered with stories, one after another, of shooters walking into crowds or buildings to deliver death and destruction.
To say I was a little nervous on that elevated flatbed would be like Noah coming off the arc and calling his experience the result of a minor rain shower. I did not want to alarm my elf mates and so kept up the smiles and waving while I diligently watched the crowd for any possible perceived threat. More than once I breathed a sigh of relief upon spying a uniformed law enforcement person.
In all my years as an elf, I could not remember feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable ushering in sights and sounds of a season typically associated with cheer and good will. I found myself wondering why I had gathered my friends and neighbors, dressed them in these crazy outfits, and marched them into what could be considered harm’s way. I suppose I was mentally bringing my pointy-shod feet up to my velvet-clad backside and delivering a good thrashing for being so careless with the safety of others.
To make things worse, I was reminded of the words of a friend who said he no longer felt safe enough in public to visit restaurants with any amount of frequency. He said we are becoming a nation of people afraid to be around strangers and be in strange situations.
I was pulled out of my guilt-ridden musings by a familiar voice in my right ear, barely audible above the noisy crowd. The voice belonged to a lady I have been honored to share the spotlight with in previous Golden Christmas Parades. As she spoke I am sure my face registered surprise – not at her voice, but her words. It was almost as if she read my thoughts.
She said, “You know, this is exactly what we needed today.” Then she went back to waving holiday greetings to the happy onlookers.
I am pretty sure no one else on the truck heard her words, but I know I did. And she was right. We needed to restore our sense of play and joy for ourselves, our families, and our communities.
My attention was momentarily diverted by three of the elves belting out a Christmas carol in their best imitation of Super Bowl halftime entertainment. Their antics were met with laughter and cheers.
I looked at the crowd through a new lens and realized there were thousands of people refusing to be confined and restricted by the threat of terrorism. I saw children and adults gathered to be part of a small-town tradition despite the potential harm others may choose to inflict on them. Now as I gazed on the people gathered below, I released my perceived need to comb the onlookers for uniforms. Instead I soaked in the smiles on upturned, rosy-cheeked faces of my neighbors, young and old. I rested in my appreciation of faces reflecting a quiet rebellion against being held hostage in chains of fear.
I felt my elf heart burst with happiness at being part of their party that day. I was proud to live in a community that chose to collectively resist the oppression of “what if’s” that can keep us hiding in our basements while handing over our freedom and lives to others.
Then I turned to the lady on my right and said, “Yes ma’am, Mayor. This is exactly what we needed. And today, we came to play.”
Copyright March, 2016
Laura L. Padgett
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