For 28 years. Eddie the Elf has been “behind the wall,” creating a magical Christmas experience for the thousands of visitors who make their way to his quaint gingerbread cottage just outside Nevada City.
Generations of families from Nevada County and beyond have traveled to Pasquale Road to the light-bedazzled winter wonderland that houses Eddie — and sometimes Santa, too.
Children and adults bring cookies, hand-drawn cards and their love for Eddie as he listens to their Christmas wishes, encourages their sing-alongs and cracks quips.
But this year is Eddie’s last; he broke the news on his Facebook page recently that he has been “promoted” by Santa.
“It’s very hard letting go of the Edster, my Christmas alter ego,” he wrote. “I appreciate all the love and affection you have given him over the years, and it will be greatly missed.”
Eddie the Elf’s Facebook page was quickly flooded with dozens of messages from his fans, expressing just how much their annual visits meant to them.
Many wrote of how they visited as youngsters and how they now have made a visit to Eddie a tradition for their own children.
Longtime Grass Valley resident Brigitte Crawford first visited Eddie on one of her first dates with her boyfriend, Jim, who is now her husband.
“Ever since then, we’ve been going every year,” Crawford said. adding that a trip to see Eddie was always mandatory for her children, who are now 17, 19 and 22.
“Eddie was the hippest elf, he always knew the latest toys,” she said. “He’s always so omniscient … He was always on his ‘A’ game and it was always so cool.
“When (the kids) got to that moody age, he could still bring them out of their shell,” Crawford continued. “My husband always says it’s not Christmas unless we go see Eddie. He captures the spirit of what Christmas is supposed to be about.”
Crawford said she had not yet told her husband or children that this is Eddie’s last year but said this year’s visit will be a priority for her.
“It’s just been a very important part of our whole holiday season,” she said. “If you are any kind of a bah-humbug (person), go talk to Eddie, and he will turn you around. It’s pure Christmas magic.”
Eddie (The Union has chosen not to reveal his identity at his request) became emotional as he reminisced about more than a quarter-century of “elfing.”
Eddie’s elf adventure began as a fluke, he said. His parents had bought the original structure, a dollhouse, off of a Rose Parade float, trucked it to Nevada County, placed it in their yard and built a path.
Eddie had been putting up lights one year and some passersby began speculating — erroneously — on who the residence belonged to.
“I started talking to them from inside the house,” he said.
That sparked the idea to turn it into an elf’s cottage for Christmas, he said, eventually adding loudspeakers, insulating the little house and blacking the windows out.
He named himself Eddie the Elf “for no particular reason,” he said. “It just sounded good.”
Eddie noted that while there are people who know his true identity, they have honored his secret.
“People have to find out on their own,” he said. “It’s a fun game.”
He did provide one clue, however: the man behind the elf is fond of white 501s.
The whole thing “sort of steamrolled,” he said. Eventually Eddie got so popular, he had to design a circular path to keep the crowds corralled. The original house fell apart 20 years later, and Eddie built the new one to his own design.
Although it doesn’t seem possible, the 6-foot-3 “elf” does hunker down in the miniscule decorated cottage. He often hosts a “peanut gallery” whose members sit inside with him, but they have to follow stringent rules and not make a sound. He also crams a table for toys, a few flashlights and a heater into the tiny abode.
Eddie brings a pack with his essentials and hikes through the woods to the back door so he won’t be spotted.
He said he gives out about 1,200 candy canes a year; the thousands of lights run about $30 a day in electricity.
Eddie shares the edible gifts and has a “ton” of other presents and cards stored in his file cabinets. There are about 5 feet of signed guest books stacked up, he said, adding, “Sometimes we crack them open and read them.”
Being Eddie can make him feel like Superman — when little kids’ eyes light up — or like Lucy in her psychiatrist’s booth — when people share their troubles. Sometimes juggling the fantasy with the reality can be tough.
But all in all?
“It’s been a blast.”
Eddie had planned on quitting in a few years. But it became clear to him this year that it was time.
“It’s time for someone else to pick up the reins,” he said, adding that the giant production had become a burden for his family and the army of volunteers needed to pull it off every year.
“It’s going to be tough — so tough,” he added, choking up. “When you do something you really love, it’s a part of you; to let it go (is hard). It’s a fantasy for me, too.”
For this last year, Eddie is looking for pink flamingoes – the more, the merrier, he said. He is envisioning a flock of 80 or more. The rest of what he has planned will remain a mystery, for now.
Eddie and his family are planning a farewell gathering, possibly at the Center for the Arts, where they will share memories and — at the end of the night — reveal his identity.
“We want people to feel closure,” he said. “I think people will get a kick out of it.”
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.