I don’t have an Elf on the Shelf. And I don’t want one.
I don’t have an elf. I’m not getting an elf. And for the love of Christmas, please don’t buy me an elf.
Parents, you know the elf I’m talking about: the Elf on the Shelf, that doll with the freakishly thin physique, jaunty hat, and creepy sideways glance. When I first heard about this Christmas interloper a few years ago, I thought so very wrongly that he’d go the way of countless other bad ideas that get trotted out every holiday season, and be left behind in a heap of Christmas albums from yesteryear’s boy bands.
But in a few short years, The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition, a marketing marvel cooked up by a couple of moms, who packaged the pixie in a festive keepsake box complete with storybook, has cemented its seat at the Christmas table, right alongside such classics as Frosty and Rudolph. The elf even got his own TV special. However, unlike everyone’s favorite snowman and reindeer, which know their rightful place is at the North Pole, the elf is a fitful, messy, repeat overnight guest in your home, at the busiest time of the year.
You see, it’s not enough to just have an elf perched on your mantel or TV console, “watching” the kids for good behavior each day before he “flies” to the North Pole and delivers his report to “Santa.” The next morning, the kids bound out of bed to see where Buddy or Jingle or Jack (it’s critical to name your elf; that’s how he gets his magic, instructs the book) has return-landed overnight, whether in the branches of the Christmas tree in your living room, or atop the American Standard in your bathroom (yes, really). The elf is sometimes found having made some midnight mischief, like having gone for a spin with Barbie in her pink convertible (that sly dog), or wedging himself inside an upside-down glass in the cabinet. In some homes, this nightly ritual starts before the calendar page even turns to December.
How fun! What excitement!
In a moment of elf peer pressure (“The kids love it,” said one friend; “It is a great discipline tool,” conceded another), I thought about my children, and their friends with toy elves dangling from the mesh side pockets of their backpacks this time of year. Was I being a mean, self-centered mother, averting my gaze from the towers of Elf on the Shelf boxes crowding the aisles at Barnes and Noble?
I turned to the most scientific poll I have at my disposal: I asked my Facebook friends.
“Am I the last mom without an Elf on the Shelf?” I wondered aloud.
Quickly, I was assured by a handful of friends I was not. What did we need this elf for anyway, one pointed out, when we already have an all-seeing Santa to keep an eye on who’s been naughty or nice?
And then, there in my news feed between photos of elves making snow angels in plates of flour, or elves sledding down hills of mini marshmallows, the elf regret poured in.
“Don’t get one!” implored one friend. “It’s a total pain in the you-know-what!”
“Is it possible to resent a stuffed doll?” said a second pal. “How many times I’ve woken in the middle of the night to realize I forgot to move ‘Freddie.’”
“Someone bought an elf for us. It’s on a shelf, the shelf in my closet,” said another friend. “And there it shall remain another year.”
So moms, if you’re suffering from elf remorse, take heart: you’re not alone. And if your elf gets lost on his way home from the North Pole, or makes the unfortunate choice of hiding deep inside the kitchen trash can, or meets the jaws of the family dog, this mother, and countless other have-enough-to-do-besides-remember-to-move-a-freaking-elf moms, won’t judge you.
And if anyone dares to buy you a replacement elf, I have just the idea for a gift you can get for that person in return, one that also likes to launch surprise messes when nobody’s looking.