I recently read a review of the Elf on the Shelf with which I strongly agreed. Because I have already established my reputation as a curmudgeon, I am proud to be able to proclaim a loud “Bah, humbug” to the Elf on a Shelf.
My feelings about this Elf were formed long before the product had even been designed. Every December when I was little a wreath would appear on my bedroom door overnight, a wreath that had a plastic elf sitting on the lower part. I cannot remember now what my parents told me about that elf, but I associated it with the elves that my parents said were watching me. Not only did they make toys at the North Pole, but Santa’s elves also helped Santa keep track of which children were naughty and which children were nice. (Wild rabbits, my parents also claimed, helped keep the Easter Bunny apprised of children’s behavior in the weeks before Easter.) No wonder I found the elf in the wreath to be a sinister element of the holiday decorations.
When I was older, the elf in the wreath no longer appeared in December. However, one December when I came home from college after Finals Week, the same wreath was once again on my bedroom door. Now I was old enough to tell my parents how I felt, and I asked them to remove the wreath. When they asked why, I told them that I had always found the plastic elf to be creepy, more than a little bit disturbing.
I’ve seen pictures of the Elf on a Shelf, and he looks a lot like my childhood elf. I understand, of course, that the Elf on the Shelf involves more of a story than merely spying for Santa, but the elves are similar enough for me to put my foot down and say, “Not in this house.” When my children were little, I did not frighten them with stories about a judgmental Santa with spies hidden everywhere. What little I said about Santa—and mostly I let the songs and books tell the story—made clear that he was simply a nice man who liked to give gifts at Christmastime.
Perhaps I should discuss Santa and his elfin spies with my therapist. She has already noted that I have a bit of a problem dealing with guilt over petty and harmless matters. Christmas is stressful enough, equally for adults and for children; the last thing any of us need is a sense of guilt and judgment tied to the holiday season. The joy of Christmas is not that we have all been nice and deserve gifts from Santa; the joy of the season is that we have a Savior, Christ the Lord, who rescues us from all guilt and all judgment. Several years ago, another blogger posted a very good short story with this very theme: you can read it here.
Season’s greetings, happy holidays, and a holy Advent to you all. J.