Accepted paper:

The elfish enactment of 'Christmas magic': an exploration of parental delight in childhood play

Author:

Lucinda Murphy (University of Durham)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores ethnographic observations from my experience of working as a Christmas Elf last December at Crook Hall in Durham. Drawing upon Bateson's notion of grace, I seek to understand the nature of the delight parents enjoy when sharing in their children's experience of 'Christmas magic'.

Paper long abstract:

'Christmas is just for the children', or so the saying goes. As I began to research experiences of Christmas in Britain, it dawned on me that I may just need to become an Elf. This paper explores ethnographic observations from my experience of working as a Christmas Elf in December 2016 at Crook Hall & Gardens in Durham. Watching tiny faces light up with gleeful excitement as they glimpsed Frosty the Snowman padding towards them, or glow with bashful delight as they gazed inquisitively up at me while I carefully spooned out reindeer dust, a sense of the numinous undoubtedly came to mind. For the children, this was a fantasy-land; a haven of magic. But it was a magic that was as alive in the parents' eyes as it was in their children's. It was a magic that was playfully enacted, communicated and suspended between elves, adults and children alike. It was hurled about in our newspaper snowballs, excitedly torn open in alluring parcels, and creatively conjured up in stories, songs, costumes, and decorations. Drawing upon Bateson's notion of grace, I seek to understand the nature of the innocent delight parents enjoy in sharing in their children's experience of 'Christmas magic'. I consider not only how physical enactments in this setting enable the self to connect with a sense of the numinous; but also how internal movements of the self, back and forth through the unconscious, may enable a suspension of time, reconnection with nostalgic memories, and integration of consciousness.

panel MB-SSR03
Moments of "grace": exoreligious experiences of the numinous