‘Twas four months before Christmas when all through the restaurant so much was stirring (but I hope not a mouse). It was Happy Hour and oysters and shrimp decorated plates and bowls with care. For it was time to talk with someone unique and rare.
And there he was: A friendly, loving soul, someone who knows everyone in the restaurant. He greets with hugs not handshakes and makes everyone feel at home. His eyes — how they twinkled!
In 2013, Tommy Holl was diagnosed with Epithelioid sarcoma at 30-years-young, a disease that left him without his left little finger. “I always joke that the cancer’s name is like a bad name for a drag queen you don’t want to meet because she’ll always take your money.”
While recovering from surgery and going through rehab, Tommy chose when to tell people in his own time. He discovered Imerman Angels, which paired him with a mentor with the same disease. He credits the organization with being essential to his recovery.
He said everyone going through this needs a “positive outlet. If you are talking with family and friends they can only help you so much. People start to change and don’t realize it and sometimes you just want things to be normal. It’s good to be truthful but you have to think about what’s best for your peace of mind and body and soul.”
But just what did Tommy mean by a positive outlet?
In 2014, Tommy officially became The Real Elf, something he dabbled with for a few years prior. Only this time he decided to fully commit himself to spreading love and laughter around the Chicago area with his “Let’s Take An Elfie” pop-up events.
When asked what it’s like to be one of Santa’s elves, “Like Clark Kent-Superman once you zip up that red onesie. I love people and am super hyper-social. It’s like this armor. People see you and treat you differently. It makes people happy and it’s an instant smile. It’s still my personality but it’s a new level. People let their guard down. They are happier. They are friendlier.”
But even an Elf can get nervous.
Shortly after recovering from cancer, he was asked to go on WGN as The Real Elf.
“My first thought, it was the first time I was really concerned about my finger, but I didn’t have to think about it because I had mittens on. Here I am this character and covering up my hands and it took my mind off of it.
“You need a positive outlook to get your mind off of things. For me it’s humor. I have to make light of everyday things. Laughter is the best medicine and you have to laugh things off and not take things too seriously because none of his get out of this alive.”
Once our conversation ended, The Real Elf sprung from his booth, to the restaurant staff he gave a hand shake and away we left but not before one or two selfies.
I heard him exclaim, ere he walked out of sight — let’s do this again and to all a good night!
Well … maybe not in those exact words. Maybe I too got caught up in the joy and fun that is The Real Elf.