Who knew something so cute, an idea that seems so fun, could cause such controversy among parents (and maybe non-parents)? In case you are not familiar with The Elf on the Shelf, let me give you some background.
Please understand I mean no judgements with this post…these are just my ramblings about my mixed emotions about this popular tradition.
I first heard about this when I received our elf as a gift from a good friend. She gave it as a random holiday gift for our family when my daughter was one or two years old. It was so sweet and unexpected, because typically we don’t exchange gifts, and I think she even shipped it to me, so it was a total surprise.
The premise is that the elf comes into your home, your family names it, and it sits (on a shelf, or wherever) to watch the child(ren) to see if they are being good or bad. Each night, the elf returns to the North Pole to report to Santa, then comes back before morning and is in a new spot. Part of the fun is for the kids to find him each day. According to the book (and now the TV show that was on last weekend), if the elf is touched, he loses his magic, and will be unable to report back to Santa if a child’s been good. Santa has also instructed the elf to not speak to anyone, so your kids won’t have to ask why he can’t talk!
We’ve had our elf for a while, then, and have used it, but it hasn’t been a huge focus of holidays around our house. With daycare kids around I was always leery of having the elf sitting too low (because you’re not going to get a one or two year old to understand they can’t touch it) and we have limited surfaces in the house otherwise. I didn’t want to ruin the magic or the idea of the elf because the older kids would see a toddler walking around with him! Then there’s the issue of remembering to move him (or her…there’s a girl one now) around the house each night. Not to complain, but I get so busy and the last thing I want is to ruin my daughter’s belief by forgetting to move the elf!
As a result, I was going to quietly get rid of our elf this year (no offense, Holle!). I figured someone would be happy to have him, and my daughter wouldn’t likely remember anyway. One more way to simplify Christmas, I thought. I.Was.Wrong. Last night, fortunately before I sold him or gave him away, Faith brought up the elf…apparently because it was discussed at school. I think she vaguely remembered having him at our house, and she asked where he was.
This has always been one of my other issues…you’re not supposed to touch him, but you buy him in the store in a box…and when I dig out Christmas bins I always felt like I should hide it from her so she only saw him when he showed up on the shelf. (The tv show, which I only partially saw today with my daycare kids, seems to explain everything really well so I recommend watching that as a family if you use or plan to use The Elf on a Shelf.)
So when Faith asked where he was, I shrugged my shoulders (as we moms tend to do when faced with an unexpected question we don’t know how to answer), and I said, “I guess he’s not here yet.” I mentioned “the rules” for the elf, and said, “We have the book if you want to read it tonight.” As far as she knew I just went downstairs to get the book, and she was none-the-wiser that I had to take it out of the box…where the elf was also sitting. She immediately wanted to start looking for him, and I assured her he wouldn’t show up while we were awake, but maybe in the morning. As soon as she went to bed, I dug our elf out and put him where on the coffee maker (see picture above).
Faith mentioned looking for him a couple times this morning, but she apparently got distracted and it wasn’t until she sat for breakfast (and I was waiting for it) when she looked up, paused, and said, “What’s that elf doing there?”. I said, “OH MY GOSH! He came!”. She got excited but I think initially she was surprised at what he looks like. More questions followed before we left for school, like, “Why are his feet flat like that? He doesn’t have real feet.” And, “Why is his hair stuck down like that? He looks like a toy.” Again, this TV show will clear that up for her, I think, but in the meantime I said, “Well, he’s magic. He looks like a toy but at night he comes to life when he goes to the North Pole.” Fortunately that was in line with the show, so I don’t have to backtrack. Whew! The stresses we go through as parents for the belief of Santa!
But I wouldn’t change that for the world. A post came through my email today (two actually) about The Elf on the Shelf (interesting timing!). This one was more about the controversy of people judging those who go “above and beyond”, “wasting time” and such other judgements about parents who participate with Elf on the Shelf. (Let’s give each other a break, people.) The point I’m getting to, though (I digress), is that she doesn’t believe in “lying” to her kids, so they know Santa’s not real. I agreed with most of the rest of her points in the post, and I’m ok with “to each his own”…until some other kid wrecks Christmas for mine. This is coming from a girl who was CRUSHED when she found out Santa didn’t exist. I literally said to my mom, “Then how do I know JESUS is real?!!!”. I was a 3rd grader and one of the kids in my class decided to tell me Santa wasn’t real. My mom explained that Santa is real in the magic of Christmas, and that St. Nick truly was real. I think it’s the best explanation and it’s so true. I love my daughter believing in Santa because of the childlike wonder and magic that comes along with it. We don’t get to have that innocence for long, and I think it’s probably getting shorter and shorter…so I’m all for letting my daughter have that wonder for as long as I can create it.
The Elf on the Shelf can help prolong the belief or might be the thing that brings it to a screeching halt. Not everyone has an elf, so how do you explain that to your kids if the purpose of the elf is to report back to Santa? The story’s always been that Santa just knows everything and can see us all the time. I was discussing the elf today with another parent, whose daughter is in Faith’s class. They also have the elf, and since she, too, was concerned about remembering to move it, the kids take turns putting the elf somewhere. She instructed them to not tell their friends because they might believe that Santa moves the elf. So even among those of us using the elf, we’re not all consistent. I wish there was a parental consensus…that we’d all agree to prolong our kids’ belief until a certain age…and that we’d all be consistent in what we did at home. I realize that’s a little over-the-top, not at all going to happen and maybe not even entirely necessary. These are just the ramblings of a mom who wants her daughter to be a kid as long as possible.
I guess we’re sticking with the elf at any rate, and my daycare kids seem more excited this year than in the past (they’re getting older). It will be a fun daycare activity, I think. Now will we go to extremes and recreate the cute ways that the elf shows up, like the ideas on this post? Maybe not. They’re adorable, but I’m simplifying, you know. If another mom has time for that, I say go for it! But we shouldn’t judge each other based on what we can or cannot do or what we choose or choose not to do. I might try to do a few cute things before our elf goes back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve.
Do you use the Elf on the Shelf? Do you “stick to the book” or what is your tradition?