By Kevin Ballantine
Bright eyed and bushy-tailed they said. It’d be fun they said. Well they stretched the truth a bit! Going from constant closing shifts to immediately opening up at seven in the morning was going to take some getting used to. Heck, leaving while the sun was still up would take some getting used to, albeit it was a nice change of scenery. Suffice it to say, I had a thermos of coffee ready…and two energy drinks for later in the day. I was going to be one shaky, sugar-happy elf by the end of my shift!
If there was ever a way to prepare someone to be an elf, the construction of Santa’s Wonderland is as good a way to start as any. Many people think the displays and props are kept in a warehouse and we just move them in and we finish in a few days, but they would be wrong. Every year, a skeleton crew of eight come in and builds everything from the ground up. Even Santa’s Cabin is built here inside the store! Fellow elf Stephan and I worked up our magic and frosted the windows, as elves James and Vicki worked on getting the Christmas Trees together…all one hundred trees. And that didn't even include the mammoth sized tree that would later go inside the lobby of the store.
Once the trees were up and decorated, and the windows were all frosted, we all helped build the centerpiece of our yearly endeavor, the most important structure in Santa’s Wonderland—Santa’s Cabin. The walls went up, the roof went on, and the house was lit up with more lights than downtown Ft. Myers, and little by little we were able to build it in the short span of two days! Don’t mess with elf ingenuity.
After the trees were in place, the borders around Santa’s Wonderland built and the ornament-shaped finials and ribbons adorned the ceiling, we had to bring in some of that white fluff from the North Pole to give it a true winter effect.
…unfortunately, snow doesn't take kindly to Florida heat and it all melted…so we went with plan B: synthetic snow, which still looked nice and gave it that “North Pole” feeling.
After day eight, the construction was finally reaching its plateau, so we began bringing in all of the toys and fun goodies for the children. The lead elves, like me, had an assigned job given to them that they specialized in; James—being the veteran elf of the group, scheduled our seasonal elves to work and make sure Santa had a good staff for his visits. Santa, after all, need only ask once, or else it was sweeping up snow and taking out the garbage for any would-be mischievous elves; Vicki—being the only mother of the group, she was largely in charge of making sure everyone was happy and there were no disgruntled elves, “…but he gets to build the big wheel and I have to clean the food court!” was not a valid argument in her opinion; Stephan—easily our most savvy elf with a tool belt. He dreads not working, because he knows when he comes in the next day there will be something broken only he will know how to fix. Don’t ask him about me building the big wheel while he was at the food court…to this day he still double checks my work.
And then there are my duties as a lead elf. The tastiest position by far! Popcorn—yup we got it. Four different flavors of cookies—you know it! Bavarian Cinnamon Roasted Nuts—yeppers! Last but not least, the staple treat of our beloved food court…freshly made and in more flavors than we have storage space for: Delicious fudge! As of now we carry over ten flavors and they are…
...I am getting ahead of myself. The flavors weren't revealed until grand opening weekend!