NEED A LITTLE EXTRA HELP FINDING JOY THIS SEASON? by Adrianna Donat
SOMA’s own Angeli Elliott brings you a festival of elves
Angeli Elliott has a special connection with the holiday season. In love with the magic and wonder of this time of year, she wanted to find a meaningful way to share it with her kids. Though her job as a human resources technology strategist didn’t leave a lot of extra time in her day, she came up with an idea that changed the way her family celebrates in December, which she calls the Festival of the Elves.
“I wanted to surprise and delight the kids each day,” says Elliott. Her family has an Advent box, but Elliott was looking for something less focused on the children receiving gifts and more focused on family-oriented activities.
“I also didn’t want the concept to be about kids being naughty or nice,” says Elliott. She wanted to encourage her kids to be thoughtful and have fun.
“So I started writing notes for the kids to find each morning. The note would say it is from an elf who has come to help our family celebrate the Festival of the Elves. Each note had instructions for the kids to do something silly or fun,” says Elliott.
Elliott is the first to admit she isn’t the best poet, but her kids loved the notes and couldn’t wait to get up the next day to find the next note. Monday is hide-and-seek day, and one of her Monday notes reads:
“We’ve hidden a trinket for you all to find,
It’s something we made and one of a kind,
Keep your eyes peeled. Search high and
Here’s a hint: where do the cards go?
So everyone, let’s start the fun,
Now count it down...3-2-1-RUN!”
Each day has its own theme like doing something silly together, making art, and Elliott’s favorite, Gratitude Day.
The Festival of the Elves was an instant classic in Elliott’s family, and each year she crafted new notes and activities. “I thought they would get to an age where they didn’t want to do it any more,” says Elliott.
But her kids surprised her. Even as they entered the notoriously complicated teen years, the Elliott kids insisted they wanted to keep doing the Festival of the Elves. “By that time, the Festival had inspired so many inside family jokes, we couldn’t just walk away from it,” says Elliott.
This motivated Elliott to write a book so others could participate in the Festival of the Elves. So early this year, Elliott started writing under the pen name Holly Figgyworth. She also started looking for just the right illustrator to bring the charm of Festival of the Elves to life.
Elliott chose children’s book illustrator Mai S. Kemble, whose works of whimsy can be seen in a handful of books, including Lou Lou and The Moon and The Night Sweeper. Her startlingly beautiful detailed artwork is a perfect fit for Festival of the Elves. Kemble used Elliott’s household in Maplewood as a model for the family home the elves visit.
Though Kemble features the Maplewood area as a starting place for her artwork, she pulled elements from the rest of the world to give it just the right flavor. “I wanted to use highly decorated and elaborate architecture for the building exteriors and interiors to make this world its own and not another rehashed version of the North Pole,” she explains. “I drew from clothing and photos of Russia, Poland, Switzerland, China, and Japan.”
As the book came together, Elliott realized she might need to go even further than writing a book to spread the Festival of the Elves magic.
“I wanted to help working parents out. I was in coding school at the time, and I realized I could make an app,” says Elliott. The app uses artwork that’s similar to the book, and allows kids to look through bios and choose their own elf. Then parents can have the chosen elf quietly generate notes for each day of the Festival.
“I love the book, but the app is the thing that helps everyone stay engaged,” says Elliott.
And you will want to stay engaged, because the ideas of thoughtfulness, family togetherness and inclusion are just what we need during a year when a pandemic has taken so much joy. This book feels like a small celebration you can do with your kids each day.
Festival of the Elves may seem like a concept that only works if your family celebrates Christmas, but the book is keen on wonder, magic, and enjoying your family, with few Christmas-specific messages.
“The message of the book is: the best way to make magic is to share it,” says Elliott. As the elves in Festival say, “The magic around you is the magic you make. It happens when you give more than you take.” If you’d like your own copies to share, you can find them at Words Bookstore and Amazon. To sign up for the app, visit festivaloftheelves.com.
Adrianna Donat is a freelance writer and author of children’s books including "The Mustache Fairy," which is available on Amazon and at Words Bookstore – near "Festival of the Elves" on the bookshelf.