Eve Vawter wrote an article condemning parents for staging adult scenarios with their Elf on the Shelf, saying that “For every asshole parent out there who finds this sort of shit funny, there is a little kid out there who has this sincere optimism about the holidays, who still loves dolls and elves and ugh, we get it parents, you are cool and smart and oh so clever and you can take a dumb elf idea and puke all over it. Now go away.”
While I personally don’t engage in this kind of behavior with our elf, I understand where these parents are coming from. The Elf on the Shelf isn’t just a harmless holiday activity that “cool parents” are annoyed by. It is a manufactured tradition that parents are either forced to engage in or otherwise have some creative ‘splainin’ to do to their child who is worried that Santa won’t know if they’ve been naughty or nice.
The first I heard of Elf on the Shelf was last year when I stumbled on a blog making fun of an insane list of Elf on the Shelf ideas, and I immediately resolved never to have one. The following day I received a call from my Mother-in-law who excitedly explained to me that she had sent our family one of our very own! I made a feeble attempt at protest, but as the package would be arriving after Christmas, I knew that I had at least a year to come up way out of this. This year, her mid-November text gently reminding me that the elf needed to come out soon combined with the fact that she would be staying in our home during the month of December made it apparent that I had to choose between an unpleasant confrontation with my MIL or simply using the damn elf. I picked the latter.
The first time my son (age four) laughed hysterically over the fact that the elf had actually moved from one shelf to another, I was thrilled. I even thought it might be worth it. However, the elf simply moving around only elicited that reaction once. Last night I decided to step up my game a little bit and suggested my son leave some blocks out for his elf to play with. After he went to bed I built a little house and sat the elf in it, but in the morning he didn’t even remember that we had an elf. I finally pointed it out to him, and he gave a very underwhelmed, “haha. cool.” Um, no. Don’t we already experience enough of our children not comprehending and therefore not appreciating the effort we put in to make them happy every day much less during the holidays when a fat stranger gets to take credit for all the presents we to slaved to get?
And it’s not like you can just not have an elf because now everyone has an elf. My boss with two older elf-crazed children explained to me that part of the “fun” is that the kids all go to school and swap stories about what their elves did the night before. So what are elf-less parents supposed to do when their kid comes home from one of these elf story swaps and asks why Santa didn’t send him an elf? They can’t say the elf is made up because then they are the asshole parents who ruined the magic for the other kids at school. So, what? They just bum out their own kid with some story about why they are the exception? I’ve spent 10 minutes trying to come up with a creative lie that both lets parents off the hook and won’t make kids sad. It is not easy! And this isn’t a regular lie. This is a lie about Christmas. If you type “how to tell your child” into google, the first autocomplete is “there is no Santa.” This is before “they are adopted” and “about sex.” Christmas magic is not to be fucked with, which is why we need to end this ridiculous fabricated tradition today. Elf on the Shelf is still relatively young having first hit the market in 2005, and if it has gained this much speed in just eight years, just imagine what will happen when this is reinforced by a second generation? It is quickly barrelling toward Christmas staple status right up there with Santa and the tree.
If other moms want to take their own children on a Pinterest fueled, constant candycane coated carnival of Christmas for 25 days, I will not begrudge them that, but I do not want to be dragged into it in the name of tradition. Christmas is magical to me because it is the time of year when everyone decides to be just a little bit nicer, when family is just a little more important, and I would like my own traditions to reflect that- not reinforce some idea the my child is entitled to a month of constant fun at my expense. Furthermore, what of the parents who cannot afford an elf? Or those who simply don’t have the time or energy stage dorm-style pranks and elaborate elf shenanigans after the kids are in bed? In the spirit of Christmas, can we please all find some common ground as parents? Can we agree that parents should be supportive of each other and respect that not all families have the means or desire to carry on tradition that literally none of us even experienced in our own childhoods? I know I’m asking for a Christmas miracle, but can we please shelf the elf?