The (Lost) Christian Origins of the The Elf Code by Buddy the Elf

Originally submitted in partial fulfillment of a degree in Tinker Training & Presented here for […]

Mockingbird / 12.22.15

Originally submitted in partial fulfillment of a degree in Tinker Training


Presented here for those who, like Jovie, share my affinity for elf culture*


I know you’re probably a human raised by humans. I, however, am a human raised by elves. Before journeying through the Candy Cane Forest and the Lincoln Tunnel on my embarrassingly public quest to find my dad (who was on the Naughty List!!!), I lived at the North Pole. I was training to be a tinker and trying to fit in as a toy-maker with my oversized yet under-nimble fingers. Discovering I was human was as shocking as a delayed Jack-in-the-Box, but I’ll never forget what Santa said to me in Central Park one Christmas Eve: “Buddy, you’re more of an elf than anyone I’ve ever known.”

I think I know what he meant. Being an elf isn’t finally about biology; it’s about the code. You know, the Elf Code. Say it with me:

  1. Treat every day like Christmas
  2. There’s room for everyone on the nice list
  3. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear

What most people don’t know, and being raised by elves I never learned the human habit of citation that would prove my story, is that the Elf Code is derived from a monastic rule written by St. Nicholas. Like elves (and those mysterious Magi), Nikolaos the Wonderworker (as the Greek elves call him), liked to give gifts—coins in shoes, for example—as a way to recall the core of Christianity: God’s great Christmas present. “God so loved, he gave” wrote John the Evangelist. And so, as an echo and imaging of this gift (what the more pretentious elves call our “sacramental memesis”), we give.


Unfortunately, my careful search of the North Pole Library archives (think Lessing among the manuscripts at the Wolfenbüttel) hasn’t uncovered a copy of St. Nicholas’s original rule. (Son of a Nutcracker, I know.) I did, however, stumble across an annotated edition of the Elf Code, written in the angry hand of the South Pole elves. This find feels at least as significant as having extra syrup up your sleeve because it’s from a stage in the Code’s textual history in which the source material was still noted between the Three Rules. What we have in this South Pole manuscript is something like a commentary on the Elf Code. Based on this evidence (see below), I’ve accomplished a task just as impressive as decorating Gimbels in one night: I’ve reconstructed St. Nicholas’s Rule.

First the discovered manuscript (transcribed, of course):

The Elf Code

  1. Treat every day like Christmas
    • It is a common error among elves (and preachers, who like elves, are called to give the Christmas Present) to think of Christmas as merely an annual event. Just as “the one who loved me and gave himself for me” is a present to be forever re-gifted in the “word of the cross,” so elves are to remember that gifting—what the rule of the Wonderworker calls “preaching the gospel”—is a daily rather than yearly joy.
  2. There’s room for everyone on the Nice List
    • This rule has proved susceptible to much misinterpretation. As the commentary on the rule of the Wonderworker [alas, another lost elven text] states: “The spaciousness of the Nice List is not owing to the abundance of human niceness. Rather, though all persons be naughty (Rom 3:23), yet the one who is gifted at Christmas is he who is a “friend of the naughty.” Niceness, it must be recalled, is result of the gift — not its precondition. Gifts given to the naughty have the power to make the naughty nice. [That’s as real as a narwhal, just look at the change in my dad!]
  3. The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.
    • Seeing that niceness is the result of receiving the Christmas gift rather than the requirement of its reception, the crucial question for the elf is this: How is the gift given? How, in our parlance, do we spread Christmas cheer? The answer: Sing. It is the song of the gift that gives the gift. [My Jovie is proof of this.]


    The Rule of St. Nicholas (reconstructed):

    1. Give Jesus as gift—that is, preach the gospel—every day.
    2. Though all be sinners, Jesus is a friend and savior of sinners.
    3. We love because he first loved us. This love comes to us in the sweet song of the sermon & sacrament, so back to Rule One.

*originally published on