A Real Elf Sighting: My Family’s Christmas Story

Manassas, Virginia, 1970, Christmas Eve. In a small house in the country, an eight-year-old girl is standing at the glass door with her cousin of ten. The adults are doing their regular, boring banter in the background. The girl and her parents had just arrived yesterday from their Florida homestead, returned to the land of their kin for Christmas. All day, the girl and her cousin had been running around the yard as kids do, yelling, playing, excited to be reunited again, and even more excited for Christmas to get here. Now they’re a little fatigued, but restlessly awaiting Santa Claus.

It’s dark outside, but the porch light illuminates the old car parked on the gravel driveway. Beyond that is a vast dark field with an unseen forest behind it. The girl rests her forehead against the cool glass, her cousin at her shoulder. They giggle now and again, sharing their own sparse banter, separate from the adults.

And then something moves outside. Someone’s out there! The girl frowns and focuses. The person outside is…sneaking, placing his feet toe-first so as not to make any sound on the gravel. One foot over the other, very carefully, hands poised for balance. He is dressed oddly in weathered greenish clothing with a sort of folded hat on his head and…pointed ears? He doesn’t notice the two children watching him, as he makes his way along behind the car, until he gets to the car’s hood.

Finally seeing the two kids in the doorway, the “person” gives a shocked expression, grabs his hat, and drops down behind the car.

This instance happens in a snap. The girl and her cousin both give a start, whip their heads to look at each other, sharing open-mouthed astonishment, and both of them shoot out the door to the outside to catch this…elf!

Straight through the door, they don’t have far to run to get to the other side of the car. It didn’t matter though. The elf was gone.

“Mom! Mom!” the girl shouts as she and her cousin rush back inside to alert the adults of the mystery. “We saw an elf! We saw an elf!”

Her mother gives a smile. “You did? Wow!” Her reaction is obviously fake. The adults take a minute to humor the children before going back to their conversation. The girl and her cousin check all around the house, under the car, and into the darker shadows out skirting the porchlight. They never find the elf or any clue he was ever there. They are truly shaken up. To them, it means that Santa can’t be far, and they don’t want to ruin their turn to get their present delivery that night. So her cousin marches straight home, as he lives just over the hill, yelling, “I’m going home now, Santa! I’m going right to bed!” The girl can hear his echoing voice as he goes, and she too hurries off to bed.

The story I just told you is true. The girl in the story is my mother with her real-life cousin. The adults, the house, the car, the whole setting—and the elf—all of it is a true story. And it really happened on Christmas Eve.

I have no reason to lie about this and neither does my mom. I believe her, and not just because I too love elves, but because she swears it to this day that she did not make it up.

She saw an elf.

In the next few paragraphs, I will go over why I think the story can be taken seriously.

As the author of the Sufferborn series, a story about a girl who falls in love with an elf as an epic plot takes shape around them, I guess I get my love of elves honest. However, I can tell you that I don’t love Christmas half as much as my mom does. Her love of Christmas never wavered, it’s what brings her joy to this day, and maybe that’s all because she finds it so easy to believe, because she actually saw something. I, personally, was born in the middle of the 1980’s when the fantasy genre was popular. For some reason, I’ve always been drawn to that genre and never wavered in that love interest. I love fantasy, she loves Christmas.

So does this mean Santa Claus exists and that elves are connected to Christmas? It doesn’t have to, and I’m not here to convince you that it does. Maybe the elf’s appearance on Christmas Eve was a coincidence. I mostly want to present the case that elves just might be real. I believe if elves exist, they exist, it doesn’t have to be related to Christmas. If you think it is then that’s fine, I wouldn’t want to argue about that. I try to entertain more realistic scenarios to fit around this story, like Dorhen perhaps: an elf who wanders around the wilderness. But I also find it fun to believe in the Santa Claus myth.

I’ve heard this story retold all my life, and since I’ve been an adult, I’ve asked questions to try to either debunk or maybe get a more realistic picture of the supposed elf in the story. There’s a few points to go over which you might find interesting.

The first point is that my mom and her cousin both saw the elf at the same time, and they immediately confirmed what they saw by sharing that initial look of shock with each other. It wasn’t that one saw something and said, “Hey, I saw an elf!” and then somehow convinced the other that they saw it too. Not at all. Both of their “reports” of the sighting happened instantaneously, and was followed up by both of them bolting out the door, without a single word shared, to check around the car.

The next point of interest would be that they both remember seeing the elf wearing a different color. My mom remembers green and her cousin remembers red. I like to think that he wore both colors combined, which could cause their mixed impressions. Nonetheless, detectives know very well that witnesses to an incident will all remember details differently. The fact that they each remember the elf wearing different colors is a point toward it being a real sighting.

The elf’s clothing was NOT a costume. My mom informs me that this was not a shopping mall-style costume. It was neither shiny nor pretty. It was worn and weathered. Going back to the color factor in the above paragraph, I would lean toward the outfit being mostly green so that the elf could better blend into the forest—since he obviously didn’t want to be seen anyway. That would be a more realistic detail, in my opinion, and adding the fact that the clothes were weathered sounds like a real elf wandering around the forest to me.

My brain wants to paint the image of his clothing being Medieval style, probably because that tends to be what we get with Christmas imagery. Elf outfits in Christmas art usually involve leggings, a tunic, and a stocking cap. Alternately, we get the same thing in my favorite genre: fantasy. So I’ve tried to prompt memories out of her of what type of clothes he was actually wearing. She can’t really drum it up, but I feel like her description of the hat might align with Medieval. The fact that he was tiptoeing was a big one though! The elf didn’t want to make any noise on the driveway gravel, so naturally he’d go toe-first. I once saw a video (which has since vanished off of Youtube, otherwise I wanted to link to it, sorry everyone!) which pointed out that Medieval people might’ve walked toe-first in their soft leather or cloth shoes anyway. It occurs to me that if the elf was wearing 20th century clothing, my mom would’ve easily confirmed it. But she can’t. If the elf was indeed wearing Medieval clothing, what does that mean? Does it mean he can time travel? Does it mean he never aged and has been living since that time period? I have no idea. But it’s just so darn intriguing, isn’t it?

She confirms that the elf DID have pointed ears.

She confirms the elf was male.

She confirms the elf was of average human height, especially since he stood taller than the car and had to duck behind it to get out of sight. However, he wasn’t super tall; we’ll call him average—definitely on the lower end of five feet tall. Therefore, I’m no longer inclined to believe that “real” elves must be short or tiny.

I’ll add that in the late 60’s, early 70’s, Manassas, VA was very country, with lush forests and fields. In 1970, its population was 9,164 (in contrast, it’s 42,772 today). My mom describes the area in which her family lived to have plenty of farmland. And as I saw last year on my trip to my grandmother’s funeral, it has a huge Civil War battlefield landmark all around with plenty of preserved natural landscape. A pretty good place for an elf to wander around, I’d say.

The ages of these kids were either 8 and 10, or 10 and 12. My mom seems to go back and forth on what their ages were at the time. Regardless, she stresses every time she talks about this, that the age range is a pretty good one from which to retain memories. I remember very well being 8 years old. I remember the movies I saw and how I felt about them. I remember what was on tv, my best friend who lived next door, the adventures we’d have in the wild blackberry patch, and what I got for my birthday! And, of course, I remember the following ages in that range!

It wasn’t some kind of uncle prank. There were no family members coming out from around the side of the house laughing, and no one ever came forward later. Once that elf disappeared, he was gone. That was the end of it. If it was a prank, don’t you think my mom or cousin would’ve heard the prankster chuckling about it later on?

That’s about all I know about this bizarre incident. The sighting happened so fast for my mom, but the image is burned into her memory. She’s quite adamant about this. After many years, her cousin began to deny that he saw anything. It’s too crazy to believe. “We imagined it, I’m sure,” he’d say whenever she’d bring it up in their adulthood. But my mom would counter, “How can two people imagine the same thing at the same time?” She retains her childlike Christmas spirit and refuses to give up on this experience, and I don’t think she should. It’s a really cool story and one for the ages. It’s not my story, but it’s still a link to the world beyond our own which I’m constantly looking for and writing about. I wish it were my story, to be honest. I also believe in ghosts and stuff, but I would so much rather see an elf!

I hope my sharing her story has brought you a little bit of joy or hope this season. Don’t take life so seriously and don’t let the world bring you down. It’s ok to believe in elves and other beings of the fantastic!

And it’s ok to believe in Santa Claus too. Merry Christmas!

(This post is approved by my mom)


12/21/22. In the above image, I generated the background using AI, describing an old car at night, and picked the one I liked best for this illustration. When my mom checked out this post, she was amazed to see that the car looks just like the one that was in her grandmother’s driveway. How weird is THAT?