Santa's Resourceful Elves

WARNING: The contents of this page are not suitable for younger children.

My son asked me the other day where Santa gets the raw materials to make all those toys. This isn't something which is generally discussed, so few people know the facts. Here they are...

Everyone has heard of Santa's workshop, where elves toil all year round making toys for Santa to deliver to the good little girls and boys of the world. There are a limited number of elves, and a great many children, so there is no shortage of work to be done. Essentially, these elf laborers have to work twenty hours a day, 365 days a year, under mind-numbing assembly-line conditions. Yet, whenever you hear about Santa's workshop, the image that comes to mind is one of happy, cheerful elves who are delighted to be there. Why is this?

Well, it's because the elves are happy to be there. You see, it could be worse. The toy-making elves are much better off than the elves who work in the mines.

Yes, the mines. Raw materials don't just grow on trees -- at least, not around the North Pole. However, mineral resources are relatively plentiful, if you just dig for them. The mining elves do exactly this. It's a hard life, with many casualties, and even some cannibalism in the ranks, but Santa is pretty much the only employer who has ever even considered hiring elves, so they have little choice in the matter.

The idea of elves going on strike for better working conditions is a non-starter, since it would be the children of the world who would suffer, and the elves who would get the blame. You can be certain that Santa regularly reminds them of what things could be like if an angry mob of good little children were to show up at the North Pole. Elves are small in stature, and relatively low in number, and they would have little chance against such a mob. No, the elves know that they're stuck with their lot in life, and can only aspire to the possibility of one day being able to join the toy-making elves in the relative comfort of Santa's workshop.

A related question to that of raw materials is what all these elves eat. Again, this is not something which is generally discussed. Santa may be able to enforce sub-medieval working conditions, but if he didn't at least feed the elves, they'd die off (or the smart ones would wander off), and he'd be stuck with no toys to deliver. So, where does the food come from?

As you know, many children leave milk and cookies for Santa on Christmas Eve. With the number of children in the world, Santa couldn't possibly eat all of what is left for him in a single night. He's fat, but he's not that fat. What he can't eat, he stuffs into the empty toy bags and brings back to the North Pole. He and the workshop elves enjoy these goodies over the course of the following year.

As for the mining elves, milk and cookies are a rare treat, at best. Even if there were enough to go around, cookies alone would not make an adequately balanced diet, and the elves would not be able to maintain the necessary strength to work the mines. They need protein for this, and they get the protein from reindeer meat.

Reindeer are relatively plentiful in the northern latitudes, and the elves have become very cunning little hunters. Only the quickest and nimblest of reindeer are likely to escape from them. In fact, this is how reindeer evolved the ability to fly. Any attempt to run away from a group of elves would likely be foiled by another group hiding in the snow along the escape route. Only by flying can a reindeer really hope to be safe. Luckily for the reindeer, a lot of them can fly. Luckily for the elves, a lot of them can't.

For starving elves, there is very little of a reindeer which is not edible. However, some parts are simply indigestible. Antlers, fur, sinew, hooves and so forth, instead of being eaten, contribute to the raw materials for toys, supplementing the output of the mines.

As for the elves you see accompanying Santa at your local mall, these are the really lucky ones. They're the elves who have worked their way up from the mines, and through the assembly lines, until they've earned Santa's trust. Only the most ambitious and industrious of elves can ever hope to reach this level. They appear warm and cheerful, despite their minimum-wage earnings while at the mall, because they are warm, and they have a lot to be cheerful about, compared to the elves who are left behind at the North Pole. Even mall food is a tremendous step up from eleven months of reindeer meat, milk and cookies.

If you'd like to learn more, take one of the mall elves aside during his or her break, and offer to buy lunch. Ask about what you've read here, and listen to what the elf has to say. You never know what you might learn!

Merry Christmas!