Ed White doesn’t mind being the focal point of an event or project, especially if it brings attention to causes and organizations he cares about.

Lansing, Mich., Local 665 member Ed White goes about his work as an electrician and Santa’s helper while getting the city ready for its annual Silver Bells in the City celebration.
Working in the elf’s outfit has made White a celebrity in and around Lansing, Michigan’s capital. Here he speaks to young children who wonder if he really is Santa’s helper.

And wearing an elf’s outfit while working high above a city’s downtown certainly qualifies. The Lansing, Mich., Local 665 member and journeyman inside wireman ensures about 14,000 lights are operating properly as part of Lansing’s Silver Bells in the City celebration.

White does most of this work in October and November, just as the weather is turning cold in the upper Midwest. He’s also dealing with nosy pigeons and the occasional window washer. But every day, he slid Santa’s elves clothing over his safety vest and arc flash suit.

“Most anybody who knows me would say I’ll go a little over the top when I’m doing something,” he said. “If anything is worth doing, you’ve got to add a little extra into it.”

White purchased the outfit a few years earlier to wear during a 5-kilometer run with a holiday theme held in conjunction with Bells in the City. He was inspired to wear it as part of his electrical work after viewing YouTube videos of hospital window washers wearing outlandish costumes, including superhero costumes to help bring joy to children suffering from serious illnesses.

It’s become quite popular – especially in a city that had to cancel its annual celebration last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

People in nearby buildings wave from across the streets and alleys when seeing White at work. Children ask if he really is one of Santa’s elves. Lansing’s Fox affiliate put together a local news feature on him. People regularly approach him with lines from the Christmas movie “Elf,” starring Will Ferrell.

“I thought I would wear it for one or two days,” said White, a Local 665 member since 2000 and also a foreman for Summit Contractors. “You get some attention and you’re able to promote the local. People started waving and clapping for me and now I find myself wearing it all the time.”

It’s nice to have the attention, but to be clear, White wasn’t chosen for this job just because he was willing to wear an elf’s costume.

It was because of the overall excellence he brings to the work. It’s demanded by city officials and organizers of Silver Bells, a festival that had been held annually since 1984 before last year’s cancellation and brings about 45,000 visitors to Michigan’s capital city on the Friday before Thanksgiving. The holiday lights are turned on that night and remain on throughout the holiday season.

Local 665 assistant business manager Jim Spitz was in charge of inspecting the lights and making sure they worked properly for nearly 20 years before handing it off to Manuel Smith, a fellow Local 665 member who also works for Summit Contractors.

In 2019, Smith asked White to check and install the lights.

“He’s just a standup guy,” Smith said. “He’s very meticulous and really interesting. He’s done some great work. I don’t think many people could do what he’s doing.”

The nearly two-mile strands of lights remain in place all year but White estimates he has to replace between 5,000 and 7,000 bulbs before the celebration. That takes about 400 hours, Spitz said. 

White did not wear the elf’s outfit in 2019. But knowing how much he and the rest of the community missed Silver Bells last year, he was determined to do so in 2021.

“It took a lot of courage the first time,” White said. “People gave me funny looks, but most people just love it. It puts them in the Christmas spirit, and it puts me in the Christmas spirit. It just makes everybody feel good.”

As Ferrell said in the movie, “It’s nice to meet another human who shares my affinity for elf culture.”