Your daily dose of Christmas spirit. This is the conversation I've had via Facebook Messages with this girl, over the course of a few days. I have loved each dose of innocence and cuteness I get everyday as an emissary for Santa. Nothing like having a conversation with a kid who truly believes you're an elf.
One lucky thing to come of this strange year for me has been a seasonal job with CCA & B, the publishing company that has only published two books -- but their main one is that little thing called The Elf on the Shelf. Since 2005, it has exploded in popularity, enchanting the imaginations of children in a season already rife with Christmas magic.
I'd heard of this book and concept before I began working for the company, which is a testament to its success because I don't have any children. They're obviously a fourth-quarter company that needs extra help in their busiest season, so I am one of about a dozen extras who swelled the ranks to help make the season a success. It has been an unexpectedly lovely and joyful job, filled with regular publishing company stress, but also infused with the spirit of children who write to Santa on our website, who charm me daily with the things that come out of their heads and hearts. When I'm feeling distressed because parents just can't be happy about anything, a few of those e-mails from kids to the North Pole (where I work, of course), cheer me up immediately. I have a massive collection of letters that I've kept, in an on-going word document, because they are too precious to simply archive along with 85,000+ others we've received so far this year.
Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell conceived of this book-and-elf activity set one afternoon over tea in Carol's kitchen. The family had their own elf when the girls were small, it was a long-standing family tradition of theirs. So Carol wrote a poem about the elf, which is the long-kept secret of how Santa really knows if you've been naughty or nice. Every publisher they approached turned them down, so they enlisted Chanda's twin sister Christa to invest in the idea, start a publishing company, and self-publish. That was the start of CCA&B, which has seen remarkable success as a company considering it really only sells one product. In recent years, they have expanded their product line somewhat, but still essentially sell the one thing: the Elf on the Shelf.
In fact, you know you've made it when you get trolled. The ridiculous person who wrote these e-mails to us is a known troller, and he gave us an over-all positive rating, because, even while he was writing us about insane things, we responded with our trademark Christmas spirit.
Whatever your thoughts on the Elf and his mission of reporting your kids' deeds to Santa (and there are many opinions), there is no denying that these women built a company on the power of Christmas magic and family tradition, and didn't let rejection letters stop them. I find it incredibly inspiring. These three women are savvy CEOs of a multi-million dollar company that they operate as a family business out of Marietta, Georgia.
I would just like to say for the record that I would have been all over this a child. My Mom was amazing at making Christmas extra magical for the four of us, and elves would visit our grandparents' house annually to deliver presents to each of the four trees in their yard. Even after the Santa secret was out for me, I played along for many years after, as my three younger brothers grew up too. There is just something so truly, deeply magical about a lighted Christmas tree with presents suddenly underneath it, glowing in the dim darkness of pre-dawn Christmas morning. Even in high school, I would wake up excited to see the presentation my "Santa" parents had put together this time. Seriously, you are never too old to believe in the magic of Christmas. This is something I say to kids who write in about their trouble believing as they get older, as their own friends and siblings are doubting too, and it's something I believe in my core, too. And so it's been delightful to work at ground zero, The North Pole, and share in the magic moments so many families share with us, as their own kids delight in their Elf and his or her special magic. This is a production whose survival depends on a belief in Santa and the Elves, so we work every single day on maintaining it. No joke, we take it very seriously.
It fills my heart with joy to read about elves gracing the halls of children's hospitals, becoming the very thing that puts a smile on a sick kid's face. I've heard many stories from families who write to say how their elf has helped them through the death of a parent, child, or other loved one in this season. And it's then when you know that these little creatures really do carry Christmas magic with them.
I must also say that there is a whole branch of out-of-control parents that are making their elves a little too mischievous - if I see one more gallon of green milk or snow-angel-making elf on Facebook this year, I might punch the computer screen. (Come on, who wants to drink green milk?) I especially hate the ones who shaved part of daddy's hair off while he was sleeping. I mean, the lesson is not to be deductive or troublesome. If the kids are supposed to be good, why do the elves get to be bad? But this is a digression. I just had to clarify my stance on this bad elf behavior.
And the Elf made it into the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade this year, thanks to the very persistent work of my marketing boss Charlsie. That's a really big deal for this heavily-curated collection of brand images geared towards children. It's also what we have to thank for the 10,000 e-mails that flooded in that weekend from kiddos writing to Santa.
Through good and bad, ups and downs, it has been so fun this year to be on the inside of a major children's brand, and a publishing company too. I've been moderating the Facebook page of a brand that has over 245,000 fans (as of right now), and which must remain constantly watched to ensure it is safe for all the Little Eyes we have checking it. That in itself is often a full-time job - and it's been such a magical place to learn and work at once.
I will admit that all three CEOs -- Carol, Chanda, and Christa -- still make me a bit nervous when they chat with me in the hallway or bathroom or in the Snowglobe conference room. But I think they've earned the right to be intimidating.
My Dad gave me an honorary award for these cookies. He said they are the closest thing he's ever eaten to this shortbread cookie he and my Mom adored during their days in Detroit, before they had kids. I believe he said something about having tried to replicate the recipe, or find a comparable cookie to make at home, and he never could. Decades later, and my family inhales these cookies.
They are a holiday cookie because you use fresh, whole cranberries, which are pretty much only readily available in grocery stores around the time people will be using them for cranberry sauce next to their turkeys. And right around this time each year, like clockwork, I start to crave them. But, I do love a good shortbread cookie, pretty much anytime.
These take shortbread to the next level. The cookie itself is not very sweet. But it's rich, buttery. And those scattered white chocolate chips give you just the interesting bite you didn't see coming. Dried blueberries add extra kick. But the trump card, the absolute best thing about these cookies, are those oozing fresh cranberries. They are tart, and they burst when you bite them, and they sizzle while they're cooking in the oven. It's a truly wonderful experience, baking these little babies and hearing them pop as the cranberry juice heats up and bursts while they cook.
You should definitely make these this season. Make them for something special, or just make them because it's Tuesday, or Friday. Make them because you have leftover cranberries from your holiday feast! But absolutely make them, and have some friends or family around to help you, so that you don't eat every single one. I've eaten three already tonight. I'll be whipping up a second batch next week when my parents and brothers show up at my house to celebrate Thanksgiving.
1 cup butter or margarine
scant 3/4 cup sugar
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
2 tsp orange juice (you'll probably need a bit more)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup dried blueberries or blueberry-flavored Craisins (I've used either to a successful cookie - the Craisins are always cheaper)
1/2 cup fresh cranberries ( I always add a few extra, let's be honest)
1/4 cup white chocolate chips
1. Preheat the oven to 375 F/190 C. Line 2 cookie sheets with baking parchment.
2. Put the butter and sugar into a bowl and mix well with a wooden spoon. Then beat in the egg yolk and orange juice. Sift together the flour and salt into the mixture, add the blueberries, cranberries, and chocolate chips, and stir thoroughly until combined. Don't worry, this dough is very dry, and often I will end up with floury bits of unmixed dough at the bottom of my bowl at the end, no matter how much I mix. If it's too dry, I will add a bit more orange juice. (Ok, I think I add more orange juice every time.) Just make sure the dough is very dry, like a shortbread.
3. Scoop up tablespoons of the dough and put them on prepared cookie sheets spaced well apart. I flatten mine slightly.
4. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until light golden brown. Let cool on the cookie sheet for 5-10 minutes, then using a metal spatula, transfer to wire racks or plates and cool completely. Definitely eat a few while they're warm and fresh.
Do NOT store in air-tight containers. You want these to be dry like shortbread. There is so much moisture in the berries, that if you store them sealed up, they become mushy and gross. Don't ruin good cookies!
Makes about 30.