Spending “A Day in the Life of an Elf,” with Mom, at Macy’s in Minneapolis

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“Who would have thought,” asked my mom, putting her arm around me, “it would be you and me again, 37 years later?”

“Whoa, Mom,” I corrected her. “Only 33 years.”

It was the late 1970s and I was two years old when my mom took me to my first Dayton’s holiday show, a display of characters from Mother Goose rhymes. (I don’t remember that particular show, but Mom tells me that Humpty Dumpty’s fall was pretty intense.) And, indeed, there we were again on Friday evening, on the eighth floor of what is now Macy’s in downtown Minneapolis, walking through a media preview for the current holiday auditorium display, “A Day in the Life of an Elf.”

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves—and not just because Macy’s supplied us with crustless egg-salad sandwiches and candy-cane Martinis. We walked through the animated display, I bought one of those giant frosted cookies that were lavish treats when I was a kid, and we even stopped to say hello to Santa Claus. My mom, who grew up on a farm, realized afterwards that it was the first time in her life she’d ever been directly asked by Santa what she wanted for Christmas. (“That’s a lot of pressure!”) We posed for a picture, which Mom intends to show to my niece Madeline, who’s still scared of Santa. “Maybe that’s because there are so many movies that show me being not as nice as I really am,” mused Claus when informed of this.

Having not been in the Dayton’s/Marshall Field’s/Macy’s auditorium since the Reagan Administration, I was seeing “A Day in the Life of an Elf” for the first time—but it’s the third consecutive year the display (which formerly changed theme each year) is on view, due to “popular demand” and, presumably, recession-era budget considerations. Though the auditorium unsurprisingly seemed smaller than I remembered, the show had all the fluffy grandeur I expected, with impressive attention to detail—”Look at that elf tickling the other elf’s toe!” said Mom, almost seeming to forget I wasn’t two years old any more—and just enough oddness to be memorable. Have you ever been serenaded by a Christmas tree singing, “Tree tree tree tree”? That’s one I guess I can check off the bucket list now.

Somewhat odder is the puppet show Moose Crossing, new this year and crafted by the Minnesota company Woodland Puppets. It’s narrated by an Ernie-and-Bert-like pair of puppets living in a woodsy rural community with a population of 25, “and that’s including some of the critters,” says the one with a five o’clock shadow and an inexplicable Brooklyn accent. On my way out I almost expected to run into these guys having a smoke and trading stories about Avenue Q auditions.

Moose Crossing, which runs $4 a ticket (the rest of the holiday display is free), delves into some esoteric corners of Christmas mythology. A marionette show tells the origin story of the mischievous boy who now mines the coal for Santa to put in bad boys’ and girls’ stockings (Mom: “That’s so sad!”), and we learn about the tense relationship between the logging community of Moose Crossing and the anthropomorphic singing trees whose corpses fuel the town’s merry holiday bonfires. The show climaxes with a vocal cameo by Julie Andrews, whose “guest star” character is literally a star—she winks every time she makes reference to Mary Poppins, The Sound of Music, or My Fair Lady. I would like to know how much money Julie Andrews made for this, and I hope it was a really outrageous amount.

After having a cup of coffee at the Starbucks in the basement (who knew?), Mom and I parted ways with cheer in our hearts, Mom toting our souvenirs. 5×7 photo with Santa: $9.95. Media VIP swag bag with coupons, chocolate, and commemorative ornament: Free. Holiday memories: Priceless.