I love Christmas. I love the lights twinkling in the trees, the cheesy carols, just about every holiday movie ever made; I love the gifts, the wonder, the tradition, the anticipation. I love everything about Christmas... except for the Elf on the Shelf.
By now we've likely all heard about the Elf, but just in case you've been in hiding or trapped in a Christmas time warp for the past few years, here's the gist of it: Sold with a book that tells his story, the Elf sits on a shelf (and on toilets, in freezers, atop batches of freshly baked cookies... but more on that later) and keeps a watchful eye over the inhabitants of the home.
When everyone is alseep he flies home to the North Pole, where he reports back to Santa on whether the kids have been good or bad. Then he zips back to the house in time for everyone to find him precariously perched in some new, wildly entertaining spot the next morning.
Apart from being many families' new favorite Christmas tradition, the Elf on the Shelf is also a multi-million dollar industry. As the Washington Post notes, "Within seven years of his birth, the Elf has scored his own Web site, Twitter account, $16 million in sales for 2011, an annual growth rate of 149 percent and a movie deal."
But not everyone loves the Elf, myself included. In fact, it seems there's been a bit of an elphin backlash this year. Here's why:
1. He's creepy.
This seems to be among the top complaints about the Elf: He just creeps people out. Those shiny chipmunk cheeks, that unsettling perma-grin, the way he lurks around the house just staring at you out of the corner of his beady little eyes all day long. Of course, when you think about it, there's a lot about Christmas that is borderline odd. Santa Claus squeezing down the chimney, having a snack, and tip-toeing around your house while everyone is sleeping, for example? If it was anyone else that would be called breaking and entering.
2. He's naughty.
For someone who is supposed to be encouraging kids to be good, the Elf seems to spend a lot of time making mischief. He tears apart pillow cases, writes all over bathroom mirrors, he toilet papers the Christmas tree and gets into "laundry fights," strewing clothes all over the floor. And, though I'm sure he doesn't do it while the kiddos are around, he's been known to guzzle back midnight bottles of Merlot. And yet, when the children he's (creepily) watching over step out of line, he doesn't hesitate to write a note letting them know that yes, he did tell Santa about the Sharpie-on-the-leather-couch incident and no, Santa is definitely not impressed. Hypocritical much? This isn't happening in my house.
3. He's manipulative.
Plenty of parents have concerns about the idea of using the threat of Santa's little tattle-taling helper to coax kids into behaving themselves. As one Salon blogger recently pointed out, "it reinforces the message to even very young children that the only reason to be good to each other is to get stuff."
Isn't that just an extension of the tradition of jolly old St. Nick himself, though? After all, as the song goes, "He knows if you've been bad or good..." Like most busy moms out there, I have nothing against a little bit of well-placed bribery. That being said, I don't drag Santa into it. I try only to threaten consequences I'm actually willing to follow through on, and let's face it: My kids are only going to be this little for a very short time. Barring serious, illegal activities, Santa Claus is coming to town.
4. He's an over-achiever.
Well, it's probably not so much the Elf who's the over-achiever as it is the moms who stay up all hours of the night creating new and often over-the-top new ways to position Santa's little helper. Yes, it seems the poor Elf has unwittingly entered the dreaded Mommy Wars. Take a quick look at Pinterest and you'll find entire boards devoted to EOTS inspiration. Here, in no particular order, are some of the more inventive ideas: Elf taking a Hershey's Kiss-sized poop on batch of freshly baked cookies, Elf making snow angels in a pile of flour dumped on the kitchen floor, Elf building an igloo out of sugar cubes, Elf sitting on the edge of the toilet fishing goldfish crackers out of the bright blue potty water.
I think it's this last complaint that has landed me so firmly in the anti-elf camp. The whole just thing seems to have gotten a bit out of hand. In keeping with our tendency towards slightly obsessive parenting these days, we have taken a simple little holiday tradition and turned it into a Martha Stewart monster. Don't we have kids to raise and relationships to maintain?
But yes, in the end I do realize that most of that is likely on me. The mom who posts photos of her Elf sitting hilariously atop a mountain of warm, sticky, home-made donuts probably isn't doing it to make me feel bad about the fact that I barely managed to stick an Eggo waffle in the toaster this morning.
So, in the spirit of the holidays, a temporary truce: Whether you love the Elf or hate him, here's wishing you, your families and even that beady-eyed mischief-maker on your shelf a very happy holiday season.
How do you feel about the Elf on the Shelf?
If you two just made things official a few weeks ago, the holidays might not be the best time to introduce him to your parents, let alone your entire extended family.
If he feels uncomfortable doing Christmas dinner with a bunch of people he's trying to impress, let him off the hook and wait for a more appropriate time to introduce him to everyone.
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