Elf on the Shelf: Let's all get our stories straight
Posted December 3, 2013
Updated December 4, 2013
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.