We all lie to our kids, right? Not major “Luke, I am your father” lies, but little things like, “We can’t go to that Chuck E. Cheese because it’s closed for renovations after a pipe burst in the basement causing serious damage,” type lies. Or like Santa Claus.
One lie I’m having a hard time getting around as a parent is the Elf on the Shelf. I hate the Elf on the Shelf with a passion reserved for Comcast tech support. The Elf on the Shelf is a lot of work—it’s another thing to make you feel like your failing as a parent—and it’s just plain creepy.
For the uninitiated, the Elf on the Shelf is a
creepy cute doll that is supposed to appear in the run up to Christmas and serve as a snitch to Santa reporting back each evening whether the kids have been naughty or nice that day—kind of like Robert Hanssen did for the KGB in 80s and 90s. The doll, which doesn’t talk or move during the day, can’t be touched by the kids or it will lose it’s magic. Meanwhile, it moves into new positions when the kids are asleep, meaning mom or dad has figure out where the Elf should go each night. Many parents get very obsessed creative with where it is placed, while others wake in the middle of the night in sheer panic realizing our Elf hasn’t moved in three days. Our elves are slacker elves.
This year, I hoped to avoid the Elf on the Shelf madness. When Thanksgiving rolled around and neither my 5 year old son nor my 4-year-old daughter mentioned it, I thought we were in the clear. I would leave the Elf in the back of my closet where he belonged.
So it was quite a surprise yesterday when my daughter pulled said Elf out of a box of Christmas decorations—a Christmas miracle?!?!?— held it up and asked what it was. Her older brother face crumpled and cried, “You can’t touch it! It’s the Elf! It will lose its magic!” (It wasn’t as bad this, thankfully.) I grabbed the Elf, said, “No it didn’t,” and made up some on-the-spot lie about how I could touch the Elf because Santa gave mommy permission to reactivate it and yada yada yada. The Elf was put up on the Shelf. I hoped that it was the end of it.
It wasn’t. My ever-inquisitive son kept peppering me with questions about the Elf: Why wasn’t the Elf talking? Why did the Elf’s eyes stay fixed in one position? How does the Elf talk to Santa? Does the Elf go to the bathroom? “It’s Christmas magic,” I said, watching him trying to work everything out in his head. I was really getting tired of lying. I was also starting to get confused by the tale I was weaving.
My track record with the Elf isn’t a very good one. Last year, I kept forgetting about him, and one day, I moved it while my kids were playing outside…in front of my 8-year-old niece…who unbeknownst to me still believed in the Elf. My sister called me later, “Well, Julia doesn’t believe in Santa anymore because you touched the Elf. It’s been an afternoon of tears around here.” After profusely apologizing, my sister told me not to worry about it, adding, “I’m a little grateful. I hate the Elf. It’s a lot of work.”
It’s also a big business, raking in $16.6 million in 2011 alone. The Elf’s likeness now adorns sheets and PJs and slippers—it’s even in a movie and a float in the Macy’s Day Parade. Stop trying to make the Elf on the Shelf happen corporate America.
I get Santa. For kids, the promise of Santa fulfilling their Christmas wishes fills the days leading up to December 25 with a titillating excitement that we never seem to be able to replicate once we stop believing. It’s such a precious time in our cynical, jaded world, and as parents, we try to preserve it for as long as possible—a real challenge as our kids age and their sense of reason and logic develop. And they learn how to Google.
So why complicate it with the Elf. Yes, the Elf makes the “Santa’s watching” threat more tangible, but really, what’s more powerful than the fear of disappointing or disobeying an invisible being who can reward you for your good behavior or punish you for being bad. (Just ask any follower of organized religion.) Plus having a watchful interloper in the house just feels Big Brotherish.
I’ll commit to the Elf business this holiday season, but I think next year, I’m just going to tell the kids that Santa thinks they’re so good, they no longer need a watcher. Now, that’s a lie I can get behind.