Elf on the Shelf ® Backlash Starts New Battle in the War Between Moms

elf on the shelfThe Elf on the Shelf® may SEEM like a simple creature -- an elf/minion of Santa Claus who comes out every year on Thanksgiving and switches places each night so children can enjoy searching for him every morning. It's a holiday "tradition" that started just a few years ago when writer Carol Aebersold self-published a book about her own holiday tradition.

The idea is simple in her original book -- The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition®. The elf watches the family and observes their behavior, flying back nightly to Santa to report on their behavior and then coming back to a new position to watch the family again.

It all seems so innocuous! So innocent! So whimsical! So why are SO many moms turning this into the new mommy wars?


The amount of backlash around this darn elf would be comical were it not real and highly contentious. In one camp there are the "cool" moms and, in the other, the Betty Crocker wannabes who hide the doll with home baked cookies, gifts, and unique accessories.

It is, admittedly, exhausting if you play it that way. But who does that? We did the Elf last year (this year it's in storage as we are mid-move) and it was fun. But we never told our kids the elf was "watching them" or reporting on their behavior. We just said he was a cute elf visiting for December and they could look for him. My husband and I did minimal effort, hiding him in the same places multiple times, and my kids thought it was hilarious.

That's as deep as it went, people. That's it. And most of my friends who DO do it have similar stories. Of course, though, like any other lightning rod parenting issue, this elf has its haters.

Naturally, there is some real snobbery and sanctimony inherent to the Elf on the Shelf® hatred. There is a "kind" of woman who does it and a "kind" of woman who doesn't. The latter are way too cool for school and spend a lot of time hating on the former kind. As Mary Elizabeth Williams says in her column for Salon:

... he’s an Orwellian nightmare. Let’s teach our children that privacy is meaningless! I may have grown up with a Santa who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, but my Santa was never lurking around in my house, keeping tabs on me for weeks at a time. I don’t know, I just find the whole concept of an advent-long period of intense scrutiny by some judgmental little voyeur in a pointy hat creepy.

But does he have to be? Couldn't he just be a fun little scavenger hunt for kids? Couldn't he just be a bit of magic and excitement in the morning and nothing more? Why does everyone have to take everything so darn seriously? 

Obviously, at some schools where this elf is de rigueur, it's a competition that adds stress to an already hectic holiday month. In addition, it's an artificial "tradition" that is marketed to the hilt. But it was once Aebersold's own tradition, something her parents did for her. And presumably she wanted to share it not to get rich, but to share something that meant something to her.

There is pressure to do the best elf hiding places and presents and on and on, and sure, that is annoying. It feels like one more huge thing in a month that is already chock-full of "huge things" between buying gifts for family, friends, and teachers; attending parties; and baking non-stop. But that pressure is self-created. I half assed the whole thing last year and my kids still loved it. We can't do everything with our kids and that has to be OK. 

I think the hatred of the elf has more to do with our own perceived failings and mom guilt than with anything else. Not everything has to be done just so. Sometimes just doing it can be fun. Or not. If you hate it, don't do it. But don't walk around writing essays about how stupid the elf is or how awful the moms who do it are. Why not just live and let live? Do you and I'll do me, thanks.

One thing I know for sure this holiday season: If I need a darn elf to tell me what "kind" of mom I am or what "kind of woman" -- urban versus suburban, a mom with a life versus Betty Crocker -- then I have bigger problems than just a lack of holiday spirit.

Do you like or dislike the elf? Why do you think people are so obsessed with it?


"'The Elf on the Shelf' is a registered trademark of CCA & B LLC."

Image via Amazon

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