Friday 14 December 2012, 16:23
In Nicky Price's job it helps if you like children.
Nicky, 40, from Glyntawe in the Brecon Beacons, has spent the last five Decembers working alongside Father Christmas in his grotto at the National Showcaves Centre at Dan yr Ogof.
It's a temporary departure from her usual job at the caves, but as a former infants teacher she says she has the right qualifications to be an elf.
"I'm well used to excited kids," she says, "and it's nice to just do the fun bits and do without all the school paperwork."
Christmas begins in early September for Nicky, when the first school bookings for the Santa Experience roll in.
"We are always fully booked up," she says." The schools start booking around about the time that they come back from the summer holidays and we are usually fully booked by the beginning of November."Christmas elf Nicky Price, with Santa and reindeer
Nicky dons the elf costume for the first time on the first Monday of December, and by the time the schools have broken up for the Christmas holidays, she and Santa will have seen somewhere around 3,000 little ones pass through the grotto, at a rate of up to 250 a day.
When the schools break up it is then time for the general public to come and see Santa.
"For school groups there's just myself but when the general public comes during the last weekend before Christmas and Christmas Eve we have two more elves coming in to help us," she says.
The children are greeted at the grotto by the elves and then Santa appears and sings a few songs. After a quick chat with the elves they then go to meet Santa in pairs.
"Sometimes you get someone who is a little bit reluctant so it's nice to have some company," explains Nicky.
"Everyday is a laugh. Every member of the team has a fabulous sense of humour. You have to when you are dealing with two-and a half to three thousand children passing through otherwise you'd go bonkers."
Nicky admits that the humour does occasionally derive from the odd unexpected happening in the grotto.
"Most children usually ask for the same sort of present for Christmas but we do have some strange requests for Santa," she says.
"This year one child asked him for some cheese. I even googled the word cheese to see if there was a game or something with that name but, no, it was just cheese."
Faced with such overwhelming numbers of excited little ones, does her patience ever wear thin? Clearly a professional, it takes some gentle encouragement for Nicky to own up.
"Everybody seems to gets a cold in December so when you are face to face with a child who has something green hanging from their nose you often have to resist the urge to ask Santa to give them a hankie," she says.
"But the children make you smile and laugh. They are so full of excitement.
"I think whatever age you are most people believe that Santa encompasses the whole feeling of happiness and giving and joy."
At 2pm on Christmas Eve the grotto is wound up and packed down for another year and Nicky, who has sons aged nine and 11, heads home to get ready for their big day.
"I seem to split my time between being an elf and being a mum," she says. "When we finish in the cave I go home and start all over again with my kids."
Friday 14 December 2012, 14:26
Friday 14 December 2012, 16:53