The {Dreaded} Elf On The Shelf

There are very few holiday traditions that are as polarizing as the “Elf on the Shelf”. Whether or not you participate in having an elf in your home may actually be more controversial than apple pie vs. pecan pie. If you are not familiar with the elf, here is a bit of a backstory. It began as a storybook in the early 2000s. About ten years later, the book was turned into a short animated film, and the elf dolls were born. The premise behind the book and subsequent film is that an elf arrives before Christmas and watches to ensure children are behaving. Then, at night, the elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa. When it returns home, it lands in a different place and in the morning children have to find it. Many households love the elf tradition. I originally learned about it from my sister-in-law when she began having the elf “visit” annually. In fact, even as my niece and nephew grew older and knew the elf was merely a toy, she still had it move around and do silly things, and they enjoyed finding it just as much. There are some families, however, who either participate begrudgingly or refuse to at all.

According to a 2012 article written when the elf was just released “It’s a marketing juggernaut dressed up as a “tradition.” Yes, all traditions are ultimately man-made and therefore artificial, but there’s something uniquely fake about the Elf.” ( The article goes on to ask “Why inject a note of fear and suspicion into a season and a holiday that are meant to be about love, togetherness, and forgiveness? Perhaps, Christmas aside, raising morally aware children requires we go several steps beyond the concept of a naughty/nice dichotomy.”

I agree with some of the sentiments of what is written here. But I think that this is a very myopic view. The concept of naughty/nice did not originate from the elf, it rather capitalizes on it. There are scores of songs and stories about being nice so Santa comes and gives you a gift, instead of a lump of coal. While there may be truth to what is written in the article, I think that you should try and participate in whatever brings you joy. There are ways to play into the Elf on the Shelf that aren’t all-or-nothing. For example, if children are being naughty, or have made poor choices, it doesn’t mean that Santa isn’t coming at all. It’s a reminder to be mindful and a chance to ask for forgiveness for negative behaviour. How many of us have threatened to call Santa at one point or another? This is no different. If there is anything this pandemic has taught us, it is that life is short – live it with love. Ironically, some parents have taken the pandemic and used it to their advantage – putting the elf into quarantine for the first 14 days so they don’t have to move it as often. I’ll admit, that is a fun idea, but I also enjoy how much J and N laugh when they wake up in the morning.

Our elf, Chingu, (which is the Korean word for “friend”), came to us about 5 years ago. Since then it has been no small task coming up with ideas for how she can get into mischief. Like many, our elf is very silly and gets into a lot of things. Yes, sometimes she is in a different spot every day (my fall-back when I forget to move her around), but she also does funny things. Our elf comes on December 1, and always brings an advent calendar for each of the kids. I have to say, I enjoy trying to be creative and come up with new ideas. I am at the point where I will surely need to recycle past ideas, but that’s okay! As I mentioned before, it is all in good fun.

Arriving with calendars

Like anything else, I think that it has to work with your family. There is a general, almost audible sigh that comes from parents who don’t enjoy the task, and feel that they have to one-up their children’s friends. There are scores of Facebook mom-group posts lamenting about the dreaded elf, and ideas for how to place it. There are Pinterest boards and Instagram accounts dedicated to this tiny doll. There are also Etsy kits where people have planned out the entire month of “placements” for the elf. I also know of people who have had the elf “break a leg” so they cannot move for extended periods.

If you are an “elf home” – the countdown begins! If not, that’s okay, too. And, if you are in need of some ideas, here are some past favourites of mine:

This is life. Love, Mom.

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