For Townsend residents, Christmas has mysteriously come early. The Harbor Bridge, adjacent to the Spaulding Cooperage, has once again been wrapped in decorative wreaths, golden bells and shining Christmas lights, almost as if by magic.
Although the work can't be attributed to Santa Claus himself, for the past two years, two local residents who go only by the name of "Santa's Elves" have sneaked out of their beds in the middle of the night, dressed to keep out the freezing cold, to festively adorn the local landmark for the holidays. The next morning, residents have awakened to find the elves' work complete and the bridge decked out for Christmas.
This year, the elves took a new approach, stepping out in broad daylight when they determined most people would be at work or in school.
Although the primary elf was willing to speak, she declined to provide her name.
"It's all about people thinking it's magical," she said.
As for why she decided to take on the project, her response was simple.
"Why not?" said one of the elves. "I've seen bridges in other places that I have visited and thought it looked beautiful. I thought why couldn't we do it in Townsend on our bridge that we go over every day?"
The elf attributed the idea three years ago to the effect of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and those who would be without family members on the holidays because of them.
"My son is in the Marines, and we know so many people (that are affected by the war)," she said.
From there, the elves went through their own Christmas decorations, pulling items to donate to the project. What they didn't have, they bought with money from their own pockets. The first year, the elf assisted at the annual Senior Center Thanksgiving Dinner, where she purchased handmade wreaths being auctioned off by the seniors. A few weeks later, after gathering all of their decorations, the elves sneaked onto the bridge to decorate after the town had gone to sleep.
"It took us a little while. It was just the two of us in the cold with no lights," she said.
The next morning, the elf was at Gary's Farm Stand to buy some more greenery when she overheard some patrons discussing the bridge.
"People were like, 'Oh who did that?' They loved it," she said.
This year, the decorations have taken on a theme: All that glitters is gold. It is also the first year that the elves have been able to light the bridge with Christmas lights, thanks to the Spaulding Cooperage selling them the electricity. Every evening at 4:30 p.m., the lights automatically turn on, illuminating the bridge until 1 a.m.
The elf has also received help from the town as well; the Fire Department used its equipment to assist in hanging the wreaths near the tops of the light posts.
"I just asked and they're Townsend residents and they thought it was a great idea and they offered their personal help," said the elf.
She said she has asked the Public Safety Department's permission in setting up her annual display.
"(The police and fire departments) have been very generous with letting me do this," she said. "I think it's because it's been respectful to everyone."
Despite the fact that she keeps her identity under wraps, the elf says that people from the community have found ways to lend a hand as well.
"The bridge got destroyed twice, and there were articles in the paper about it, and people found a way to send me money," she said. "This Christmas, the decorations are all from donations."
To make it a little easier for the town's residents, the elf has plans to discuss with the Townsend branch of Worker's Credit Union the possibility and the necessary steps involved in setting up an account for people to make donations, to be called the Magical Bridge Project fund.
"I thought if we had that available, if someone wanted to donate that may not have chance to or just appreciates what they're seeing, then they'd have that opportunity," she said.
In the summer, the elves switch hats, taking on the title of the Summer Fairies, decorating the bridge with flower baskets and putting out flags for July 4 and Memorial Day.
"I just hope it brings people joy to go across when they start their day and see something beautiful," said the elf.