For my family, the Christmas season doesn't officially start until Santa crosses 34th Street at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. That's when I bust out the Christmas music and start putting up the lights. But there’s also someone besides Santa Claus who shows up during the parade, except he’s not welcome in our house: the dreaded Elf on the Shelf.
I first found out about the Elf on the Shelf, the toy that supposedly watches over children and reports back to Santa as to whether they've been naughty or nice, last year. I was babysitting for a little girl who had one, and while I listened to her mom explain how it worked, I honestly thought she was joking. But she wasn't. On Facebook, I saw that many of my friends with young kids had also purchased elves, posting pictures of the elves’ late night activities and desperately asking the hive mind for suggestions.
My son was only 2 years old at the time, so he didn't even know what Christmas was, let alone how the Elf can be used to control kids' behavior. But I vowed right then and there that this was not going to happen in my house. I was not going to drive myself crazy with that nonsense. I don’t knock those who love it, but Elf on the Shelf is definitely not for me.
Here's a little backstory for those who don't know about Elf on the Shelf: According to the website, your elf is a “scout elf” for Santa. You “adopt” one of these little scouts (you get a certificate and everything) and you give it a cute, elf-like name like Peppermint or Clover or Barnaby. But the adorableness of the Elf on the Shelf conceals its nefarious true purpose: to help manage the “naughty” and “nice” lists by watching your kid all day, and then going back to the North Pole at night to report back to the guy in the red suit.
Apparently it's no longer enough for parents to freak their kids out by telling them that Santa sees you when you're sleeping and knows when you're awake. You need an actual spy for Santa to sit on your mantle, 24/7, staring at your kid and making sure that he behaves.
That's the primary issue that I have with our friend the Elf: it doesn't just stop with the toy. There's a book that comes with the elf, and when you visit the Elf on the Shelf website there are a ton of accessories that you can buy as an add-on to your little friend. There are pets, like a reindeer and a Saint Bernard that help Santa and the Elf with their Christmas missions. There is also a kit called Elves at Play that comes with 15 tiny tools to help your elf go on adventures. And it's a steal at only $30!
My second issue with the Elf on the Shelf is how utterly devious and manipulative the concept of the toy is. Because Santa is an abstract mythical being, it's easy for kids to imagine that he is everywhere. But because the Elf is literally sitting in your home, that makes the level of manipulation all the more immediate. So you have this little elf that is “watching” your kid and reporting back to Santa about all of their misdeeds? What kind of behavior are we talking about here? Is the Elf calculating, say, how many tantrums my kid is throwing a day? Does it consider the circumstances of such bad behavior — say, whether your kid has had a nap yet, or if he's just having a bad day? Since when did the line between "naughty" and "nice" become so black-and-white? Shouldn't good behavior be the standard for kids all the time, not just when Christmas presents are on the line?
The thing that bothers me the most about the Elf on the Shelf, however, is that it's just another way to create more work for moms.
The worst part is, this tactic at controlling kids' behavior likely isn't even effective, because we're just going to give them presents anyway. If we tell our kids, "don't misbehave because the Elf is going to tell Santa and you won't get any presents," how many parents/family members are really going to follow through with that? After all, Aunt Matilda probably bought those gifts on Black Friday, and she's giving them to your kid because she spent five hours standing on line to get it.
The thing that bothers me the most about the Elf on the Shelf, however, is that it's just another way to create more work for moms. If your elf makes its first appearance right after Thanksgiving, you could be looking at 30 solid days of elven shenanigans because the Elf is supposed to change locations every day to keep kids on their toes. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. And it's not enough to simply move him from the couch to a high shelf, because where's the fun in that for the kids?
No, your elf has to do fun things like scale the Christmas tree, eat all of the candy in the house or bake you cookies. All of the moms I know have a million things going on in their lives. When the heck do they have time to sit on the Elf on the Shelf website, brainstorm ideas and then get all the materials to make Peppermint switch all the socks in their kid's sock drawer?
I'm all for the spirit of Christmas. I took my toddler to meet Santa, and I sing the songs and spread the cheer. But this elf stuff just isn't going to fly. If my son comes to me next year asking about the Elf, I'm going to tell him the truth: Mommy doesn't have time for a holiday houseguest. Sorry, not sorry.