If you haven’t heard of Elf on the Shelf, you must be child-free and have disposable income. Elf on the Shelf is a little elf doll that you move around the house every night until Christmas. He shows up at your house right after Thanksgiving, and your family names it and talks to it, but must not touch it. If you touch the Elf his magic fades, and he needs his magic to be able to report back to Santa. If he can’t talk to Santa, the kid won’t get presents, and so on.
You’re supposed to let your children know that the Elf is a direct line to Santa. “I watch and report on all that you do!” he says in the book. “The word will get out if you broke a rule!” If you’re bad, you get nothing. You lose. Good day, sir. If you’re good, well, then Santa is going to bring you a boat load of presents.
I suppose I can get past the force-fed tradition and marketing tactics. But to me, it’s just one more item to add to the long list of things parents should feel bad about not doing. You don’t spend 25% of your week volunteering at your child’s school? You don’t cut your kids’ lunches into cute little animal shapes? You don’t have an adorable little craft for your kid to give out to their teachers once a month? Join the club, my friend.
All you have to do is take one look on Pinterest to see how intense and competitive the world of parenting has become. A quick search yielded me pictures of Elf holding a dollhouse-sized plate full of mini pancakes next to a bottle of syrup, Elf making snow angels in powdered sugar on the counter, and Elf and Barbie taking pictures in a mini cardboard photo booth complete with tiny little props on sticks (like mustaches, beards, monocles, etc.). Using the words of a very popular recent meme, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
Now before you get ahead of yourself and call me a hater, I have to say that I realize that parents can make their Elf on the Shelf experience as simple or as elaborate as they want. I have many friends and family members who love playing around with Elf on the Shelf and don’t get all Pinterest-crazy. They keep it simple and have fun with it. I asked a few of them why they loved the Elf. One friend said she never got into the whole “he’s spying on you” story and used it as a countdown to Christmas Day. Another one said she only does it because it gets her kids out of bed in the morning. “Otherwise,” she said, “I would be yelling, the kids would be crying and we’d all be late every morning.” She wishes there was an Elf on the Shelf for every month.
But it wasn’t until I actually talked to my friends and family that I realized I may be a bit too much of a curmudgeon. I discovered most of this pressure and guilt is self-created. So I went back and edited this post to get rid of my rage-against-the-Elf-marketing-machine content. If we’re going to feel guilt about not having the perfect Elf on the Shelf activity, then we’re going to feel guilt about 100 other things, too. We’re going to feel like we’re never enough. And you know what? In the court of common opinion, we aren’t. We’ll never be the perfect Pinterest parent. So maybe the problem isn’t with the Elf himself. The problem is the pressure we put on ourselves to create a perfect tradition.
I have my own traditions that are very important to me, and I hope they become important enough to my kids one day, too. Every year on Christmas morning, my parents would play the Beach Boys’ Christmas album on our 8-track machine while we opened presents. Then we’d watch the Christmas Day Parade on TV while we played with our presents and my dad made pancakes.
Some people love to watch 24 days of holiday movies leading up to Christmas Eve. Some people have a big cookie baking party with their friends. Some people get crazy with Elf on the Shelf. I guess the moral of this story is that as long as what you’re doing comes from a place of love and not from a place of competition or peer pressure, keep doing what you’re doing.
Do you get crazy with Elf on the Shelf? Are you going to be doing the Mensch on the Bench instead? Do you have a holiday tradition that you’d love to talk about? Let me know!
If so, subscribe now for tips on home, money, and life delivered straight to your inbox.