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.
This time of year can put children’s (and parents’) patience to the test — long trips in the car to visit family, seemingly endless shopping lines. Make the most of the time your kids will spend waiting with a fun new educational app, Little Ashby: Star Reporter.
Created by Parents’ celebrity correspondent and Entertainment Tonight co-host Nancy O’Dell and developed by StoryChimes, the app is an interactive storybook that allows children to follow TV reporter Ashby (named after Nancy’s daughter) and her crew on exciting assignments.
Ashby’s first job? To interview Santa! Children will love joining Ashby on her journey to the North Pole. Along the way, they’ll learn educational facts, values, and morals that will be reinforced with engaging activities and games.
Here’s a brief description of the special: The Cat in the Hat, Nick, and Sally are on a journey around the world to help a lost reindeer find his way home to Freezeyourknees Snowland in time for Christmas. On the way, the Thingamajigger breaks down, and they depend on a variety of animals — from African bush elephants to bottlenose dolphins to red crabs — and their remarkable abilities to help them.
As we start counting down the weeks before the holidays, a tradition in our household is to make a gingerbread house. The trick (and I am no Betty Crocker) is to let icing thoroughly dry before decorating every inch with candy. It’s not an easy feat to wait, I might add, as piling on the candy is without doubt the most fun part. The other trick is to support the gingerbread roof slabs with some homemade devices so they don’t slip. Ours usually involve empty yogurt pots, and some carefully placed Lego pieces!
Before you make the gingerbread house, draw one out on paper, and draw the different colors of candy on the house but make sure to do so in repetitive sequences. For example, red M+M, blue Skittle, green Nerd, and repeat. Do this all over the house and give this “blueprint” to your wee ones as a guide to follow. If they’re toddlers, picking out the right color will help with their vocabulary and grasp of color; if they’re of pre-school and kindergarten age, they can then carefully place the candy while learning about sequences. Make sure to let them create their own candy sequences also. If they’re a little older, let them design the gingerbread-house candy sequences themselves, and then implement them.
P.S. If you’d rather cut back on the candy, you can use dried and fresh cut-up fruits, which go nicely with the gingerbread flavor. You can also make your gingerbread houses from scratch, or buy a kit that comes with pre-made walls and roof. Either way, you get to combine tradition with candy (or fruit) and math! Simply perfect.
How did it get to be November already? It doesn’t matter, November is here, and the countdown to the holidays is on. (Quite literally; check out our 100 Days of Holidays for so very many cute ideas.) We’re showing this personalized book in our December issue, but I wanted to write about it here, too, while you’ve got plenty of time to order.
I’ve seen a lot of goofy personalized books, but the ones from I See Me are gorgeous. Truly! The illustrations, especially in this Very Merry Christmas book, are so sweet. The story incorporates your child’s name seamlessly, so the book really becomes about him or her. And at $30, it’s a great deal.
The most popular I See Me book for new babies is My Very Own Name, which shows animals building a new baby’s name letter by letter. It’s sold hundreds of thousands of copies, has celebrity fans such as Courteney Cox, and is now a $5 iPad app. But I still love the $33 book, which is keepsake-worthy.
Read more about their books by liking the I See Me Facebook page. (If that link doesn’t work, simply search for “I See Me” on Facebook and their page should pop up.) To kick off the gift-buying season, the owners of I See Me will give one lucky person 10 gift certificates, each certificate good for the cost of one book including shipping, for a prize worth $409! You could make some books for your own baby, and use the rest as gifts. To be eligible, leave a comment below. I’d love for you to tell me your baby’s name! (We’re a little name obsessed over here, we even have a baby-name blog.) You can comment up to once a day between now and the end of the day on Wednesday, November 7th. The official rules are here. Goody luck!
Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, or another December holiday, it’s a magical time to gather family together to eat, drink (adults only!), and be merry. Here are some ideas from Parents to make this season extra special.
Wal-Mart Pulls Formula After Baby’s Death
Wal-Mart has pulled a batch of powdered infant formula from more than 3,000 of its stores nationwide after a Missouri newborn who was given the formula became gravely ill with a suspected bacterial infection and died after being taken off life support, the retailer said Wednesday.
NORAD Santa Trackers Stand By for Another Big Day
Santa already is piling up big numbers on social networking sites this season, so the volunteer Santa-trackers at NORAD are bracing for tens of thousands of calls and emails when their operations center goes live on Christmas Eve.
I am proud to say that my 5-year-old appreciates the beauty of Christmas lights and at the same time understands, in her own way, why we don’t decorate our own home. “These people must celebrate Christmas,” she invariably remarks when she sees a house decked out to her liking. It’s an observation without judgment or envy, a sorting of the world to make sense of it. We have Hanukkah. Candles, presents, latkes, dreidels, and not trees, Santa, flashing lights, or nativity scenes.
Last year, I wrote about my concerns over how to raise children who can embrace and celebrate and love what we are without dismissing or diminishing those who are different. In the black-and-white way we tend to speak to our children, other people can too often be painted as wrongheaded rather than just different. I try to instill in my children an appreciation for and understanding of the complexities and diversity of life; in the words of my friend Brad Hirschfield (who wrote a book with this title), “You don’t have to be wrong for me to be right.”
At least in this regard, Adira seems to have gotten the message. It helps that Hanukkah and Christmas are close to each other this year and that for the first time she understands Hanukkah enough to be truly excited for it. Still, it makes me proud to walk around our neighborhood and discuss the holidays, admire Christmas decorations, and plan for our Hanukkah celebration. She even told me that one particular nativity scene near our house reminded her of a scene from her Passover book. Sharp girl I’ve got.
Adira has also thoroughly interrogated Sara, her nanny, about her holiday observances. She knows that Sara celebrates Chirstmas and not Hanukkah and asked whether any of the kids she previously babysat for were Jewish. Hearing that they were not, Adira understood and got excited for Sara’s first Hanukkah. She told her all about our customs and how we light the candles and give presents, and asked my wife for a $1 bill. Why? To give to Sara as a present. “Is it ok to draw on money?” Adira asked, wanting her present to be fancy and worthy of the occasion. Instead, she wisely decided to make Sara a present that didn’t involve a dollar bill. I guess my next lesson should be about understanding money, but for now, I will celebrate Hanukkah proudly with my family.