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Elf on the Shelf: Let's all get our stories straight

Posted December 3, 2013
Updated December 4, 2013

Nick, still in his box

I love Christmas. I love filling the house with Christmas music, singing along with my girls. I love slowly pulling out the Christmas decorations, tacking up handmade ornaments here and stringing up lights there until the house, by Dec. 25, is just an explosion of green and red and sparkle.

I love seeing the anticipation on the faces of my kids as they get ready for their annual chat with Santa or bundle up to walk down to the neighborhood church's living nativity. I love baking cookies with them, wondering just how many sprinkles and colored sugar bits they can put on one single cookie.

I love all of that. I hate the elf.

I'm talking, of course, about the Elf on the Shelf, which entered my family's life two years ago when my older daughter asked for one for Christmas. The elf is the creative genius of a mom and daughter, who, I suspect, now have a very nice Christmas thanks to the extreme popularity of their product. There's even an animated TV special!

Last year was our first official Christmas with our elf. My older daughter named him Nick. I started it all in good cheer. I knew of other families whose Christmas traditions now require the elf. And I liked the overall, but slightly creepy message: A special elf from the North Pole is spying on you this month to determine whether you belong on the nice or naughty list (though, in reality, my kids are actually pretty well behaved other than the preschooler's age appropriate outbursts).

I was ready to hide Nick all over the house, hanging from the Christmas lights, on top of the cookie jar or wherever. That enthusiasm lasted a little less than a week when I started waking up in a panic, worried that we hadn't moved him before the kids woke up and started looking for him. (Thankfully, my husband usually had taken care of it because he'd woken up in a panic an hour before).

This year, I'm dreading the whole operation. While elves have appeared at friends' houses across the neighborhood, Nick has yet to visit our house. My eight-year-old has wondered two things: If we can take him out of the box that's "hiding" in my closet or why he hasn't come down from the North Pole yet.

It's a delicate discussion, especially with a grade schooler who is starting to question where all those presents really come from on Christmas morning.

"We wait to start celebrating Christmas a little later than some people. I think he doesn't come out until we have the tree up," I said. "That's all I can tell you." 

It all got a little more complicated when I opened up a box of Christmas decorations and my girls found two elves that look a lot like the Elf on the Shelf with big plastic heads, slim bodies and looped arms. They actually were ornaments from my childhood, which we just hung on the tree.

"Are these elves?" my older daughter asked. Her little sister's eyes were wide with wonder.

"Ah ... no. Not like that," I fumbled. "They're different kinds of elves."

"Huh," she replied.

Here's the problem, and I know I'm not the only one facing these dilemmas because I got an email from a reader on this very subject this week: We all need to get our Elf on the Shelf stories straight.

We need some Best Elf on the Shelf Management Practices here. If we're going to do this, we all need to stick to one story because kids talk. We need a hard line on when he arrives. (Let me suggest Dec. 15). We need a hard rule on what he can do.

Because at other people's houses, the elf does some pretty awesome things ... like swimming in a bowl of cotton balls or zip lining across the kitchen. In some houses, he gives gifts. Other houses, I recently learned, have multiple elves. The madness!

I know people will read this and wonder what's wrong with me. Why don't I care?! Why can't I get into the Christmas spirit?! Why can't I just hide the elf?! Why can't I just tell my kids no?! (I do tell them no, see the bit above about how they are generally well behaved).

Maybe my indifference has something to do with the fact that the Elf on the Shelf wasn't part of my childhood Christmas memories. 

Regardless, I can't turn back now. Giving up on Nick is a step toward explaining another truth about Christmas that I'm not ready for my kids to know about. Nick will travel from the North Pole to hide in corners across my house, probably as early as this weekend.

My Christmas wish: Perhaps next year, my older daughter will be ready to take the reins here, hiding Nick across the house to the delight of her little sister.

Sarah, Go Ask Mom's editor, is a mom of two.

27 Comments

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  • yesimagirl Dec 5, 2013

    Absolutely righthere1234...Wasn't a good fit for my family so we didn't do it. Speaking as someone who has teenagers now I can say it's the things you model when they are little that have an impact when they are older. Surely your children will remember Joseph with great fondness :)

  • righthere1234 Dec 5, 2013

    I think there are people who overthink this way too much. Before we know it the Elf is going to be another facet to the ongoing "mommy wars." Just do it how you want and in a way your family enjoys.

    We have an elf. He appears every year on Black Friday. My kids enjoy Joseph and start asking soon after Halloween when he'll be back. We read the story but don't overly push the idea that he reports back to Santa unless we need something to give them a little push in the right direction. I love hearing the excitement when my son finds him. You would've thought he had won the lottery when he discovered Joseph hanging on to the star on our tree the day he returned. Joseph does a mix of mischievous, funny, and sweet deeds. Last night he was sliding down the banister but a couple of nights ago he had pulled out all the Christmas story books to read. We don't have time to do the crazy and intricate stuff, but I enjoy seeing my friends' elves.

  • yesimagirl Dec 5, 2013

    siasl52, how much can I LOVE what you wrote. I totally agree. We received one as a gift about 8 or 9 years ago before they were all the craze. It lasted about a week. I'm teaching my children to behave and make good choices without being watched - after all, at some point the measure of who they truly are will depend on it.

    Furthermore, anything that ADDS stress to this wonderful season has no place in my home! LOL!!!

  • siasl52 Dec 5, 2013

    I have a lot of respect for kids, and the last thing that would appeal to me is another opportunity to deceive mine. And isn't the Big Idea behind Christmas the part where we receive a gift explicitly without regard to our shortcomings?

  • lilypony Dec 4, 2013

    I love the elf. It's fun and exciting for them. Yes a teeny little chore to remember each night, but really no different than remember to brush my teeth or pack lunches. Yes someday they will learn he really was a toy after all. Big whoop-dee-do. It was fun while it lasted, just like all the other childhood heros that fizzle away as they get older.

    Is he a little creepy? YES! But any creepier than sitting on an old man's lap at the mall? Nope. Or knowing that fat old man can see them when they're sleeping and is spying on them always? Nope.

    My biggest issue with the elf is not in my house but in their friend's houses. Those elves are naughty. I'm baffled that the elf is allowed to be bad (really bad) but will report any misdeed directly to santa. That's a problem. Our elf has excellent manners and is always on the lookout for the same. Naughty elves have no business expecting well behaved children.

  • jbuckhead Dec 4, 2013

    I have an even better idea. Let's consider all the future parents out there who are going to have do whatever blown up version this thing morphs into and tell the kids the elves aren't real. I love Christmas. It's one of my favorite times of the year. Buts it also a stressful time of year. Why do we need one more thing to add to the madness? Oh, and they cost $30! Are you kidding me. And both my kids want one. I'd like to meet the person who invented these and thank her for taking consumerism to a whole new level. She must have a devil of a child that needs an elf to behave. Maybe she'd be better off in hell. Ok, maybe I've gone a little too far. Merry Christmas.

  • mdwrfw Dec 4, 2013

    I love Christmas and all the fun decorating and cooking and traditions.I do Not like the Elf on a shelf. I think it is creepy to have children think an elf is spying on them and reporting back to Santa. I also don't like the idea of being good to get presents. Doesn't anyone remember the real reason we celebrate Christmas?? God gave us the perfect present, Jesus, and we give gifts to the people we love to celebrate this. We do not deserve salvation, it is a gift. More children know about the elf than the Christ child.....it makes me sad.

  • dmj Dec 4, 2013

    Our elf is Isaac and I have an awful time remembering to move him, too! I forgot the second night! I think making the elf mischevious is ridiculous, too.Isn't it enough to have him just sitting around watching? Good grief. I do have a friend whose elf leaves notes every day for the kids which I think is a really cute idea, though.

  • devilblue Dec 4, 2013

    I had never seen or heard of the Elf on the Shelf but my daughter is now 18 so he must have appeared fairly recently. My sister had one at her house so I got the whole run down on why it was there. I think it would stress me to remember to relocate the thing on a daily basis.

  • NanaNae Dec 4, 2013

    I was just talking about our Ernie (elf on the shelf) and wondering why families have elves that get into trouble and do pranks. The whole story of the elf is that he/she watches the kids and reports to Santa if they were naughty or nice - now what kink of message are you sending when you are expecting your children to behave - but their elf that has a direct line to Santa gets away with anything. I understand some of these can be cute or funny - and if you are not in it for the message of reporting to santa then I guess having your elf hang the kids underwear all over the tree is okay - but in my house, for my grandson Ernie is a very welcomed house guest that sits and observes my grandson and leaves at night to report the behavior to Santa, then returns and finds a nice place to sit and watch some more.....Ernie is a good elf.

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