Donna Tavano: Elf Power

It’s crunch time for elves—no, not the North Pole guys, I’m pretty sure they’re unionized and get paid living wages—I refer, rather, to the local elves who selflessly volunteer their efforts for the sheer joy of creating and making beautiful things happen. They are all around us, silent and stealthy, they stitch and paint and sing and build. They are “gramma” elves who knit socks and mittens, baby blankets and prayer shawls for homeless and domestic violence shelters, those who need healing, and little munchkins with equally little frozen fingers and toes. They are quilting elves who sew their hearts out, donating over a hundred quilts to local veterans last Memorial Day. There are elves who construct big homes for families a la Habitat for Humanity, and elves who hammer tiny houses for birds which are auctioned off to raise money for the Sampson Fund, assisting owners in paying for their pets’ medical care. There are artist elves who transform blank canvases into authentic works of art benefiting our wilder critters, donating the proceeds to Wild Care. Other artist elves, like the Guild of Harwich Artists, paint miniature watercolor and oil painting ornaments sold during the Harwich Christmas Stroll at the Guild Gallery with all sales donated to the Harwich Children’s Fund. There are Chatham Angel Fund elves who design ceramic ornaments which are sold to generous consumer elves, all donations going to good causes. So many busy elves…so little time…so many needs…

I proudly/humbly admit to membership in a merry mayhem of elfishness known as the Crafty Chics. Operating on the second and fourth Thursday mornings from a secret craft bunker deep within the basement of the Chatham Community Center, we reuse, recycle and re-invent whatever we can get our hands on, gleaning materials from our overstuffed attics, swap shops, beaches and sometimes craft stores, miraculously creating delightful treasures of jewelry and clothing, ornaments and home décor. We do it partly because we’re hard wired as compulsive crafters, but also because we are able to share what we’ve made, and donate over $2,000 over the last two years to the Chatham Community Center for children’s programs.

The word craft comes from the German “kraft” meaning planning, executing, ability and power; yes, there is power in crafting! Crafting first began 6,500 years ago when humans started to make eating and drinking vessels, clothing and furniture. After the first guy or gal yelled “throw me a hunk of that clay so I can make a cup to drink from,” they realized they could make things that were both beautiful and useful. In a world without TV, books and the internet, they told their stories with figures and images on walls, plates and jewelry; some were mythological, and some were personal narratives. Created with time and patience, the items they made were used over lifetimes and through history, giving us clues about their culture and experience.

Today we still craft; in fact, it’s a $30 billion industry with everybody traveling in their own DIY universe. But we also craft in other ways than simply producing tangible items. We craft musically, poetically, theatrically and with literature. There are musical elves and theatrical ones who perform on violins, pianos and ukuleles, offering concerts which help families of fallen firefighters and police officers and those suffering from natural disasters. There are April Fool plunging elves, firefighters in disguise, who, freezing their little elf buns off, immerse themselves in Nantucket Sound every April 1 to raise money for locals with health challenges. Elves live near and far. There is a group in Europe, the Flying Seagull Circus, comprised of circus artists and performers who travel to refugee camps and play with children who only know upheaval, loss and pain. When they arrive, the children are depressed and lackluster, idly hanging around. They teach them songs and magic, they spark their imaginations, teaching puppetry and games. The children begin to laugh again and play, learning how to invent, perform, and, for a short time, experience a smidgen of joy. They are taught how to create something from nothing—from only what is in their heads and hearts.

Recently, at a fair, I was selling some of my soft sculptured pumpkins with real pumpkin stems. One of our Crafty Chics was there with her sister and saw them. A few weeks later, at a Crafty Chics session, we were moved to tears as the member, whose sister had seen the pumpkins, showed us her sister’s own bit of crafting. Their beloved dad had just passed away. Her sister took his signature worn fleece jacket and transformed it into nine small pumpkins which she gave to all the members of their family. Tied to each stem with a bit of raffia was a tiny laminated photo of their dad.

This holiday season, slow down, and consider creating meaningful gifts… remember sewing, knitting, quilting, crocheting? Or, if you don’t have time, buy local art and handmade items created simply by people just like you. Their creations emanate a soulfulness which commercially mass marketed items lack. Create and donate for good causes. Channel your own inner good elf. Be elfish, not selfish. Give your good away today!