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

Rant 44

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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CByxbe CByxbe

We do a different elf on the shelf....we have a Christmas monster stuff animal which is basically a big ball stuff animal named Rufus and then we have a Christmas dog stuff animal named holly. They do crazy and cute things like putting on the baby's diapers and bibs and reading books. They also play our 3 year old sons matching games or set up his cars. They also tried their hand at decorating which was cute. With ours we allow our children to play with them saying the more hugs and love they get the more magical they become. I hate the elf on the shelf because of how creepy he looks and the fact the kids can't touch them. A girl I watch had a panic attack because her brother touched the elf and she flipped out it was so sad!

ethan... ethans_momma06

We don't do Santa or the elf, or Christmas (anymore).


Buuuut. I love 'the elf on the shelf' ideas. I've seen some hilarious set-ups. I could see my family having some fun with something like that, especially if we celebrated.

However, I'll admit that the idea that he's at the home  to 'watch the kids and report back'... yeah, that skeeves me out a little. We'd have to deviate from that.

Rysam1 Rysam1

I'd been contemplating on this for a few years and finally this year my 7 yo daughter begged for one since "all her friends" have one.  Apparently her friends elves are over-achievers and leave notes and candy. Jeeez, it's hard enough remember to move him every night, now I have to write notes and leave candy? Nope, not in my house.  I may do it a couple of times, but not every night.

bethg... bethgoedeken

This is our first year doing the Elf.  So far our 2 year old and 4 year old love it and are having a blast. We don't do anything crazy. Just sticking her (The girls named her Ella) up somewhere out of reach. Although I did decorate the house last week while the kids were at pre-school and claimed that Ella did it, but this is something that I would have done without the elf.

Christen Nichols

I like the idea, but not a huge fan of elves. When DS gets a little older, I think I want to do it with something else. Maybe Santa can send a reindeer or something to spend the holidays with us.

Janet Kelley

In my very limited observations of elf activity via Facebook, it seemst that fathers are mroe into the elf thing than women.  Anyone else notice this?

nonmember avatar ErckleMom

I take issue with the Elf on the Shelf for how it compounds the lies related to Christmas. I'm impressed with the clever parents who do amazing things with the elves, but eventually questions will be raised and the truth will out. My husband and I already struggle with the Santa lie and our daughter isn't even 2 years old. I can't imagine the enormity of having to undo all the elf lies in addition to the Santa/reindeer ones. NORAD should also be ashamed. I know everyone has good intentions, but aren't these complications just more disrespect to our children, whom we love?

cassi... cassie_kellison

We don't have one, but I do like the idea of a mischievous little elf running around the house. Not necessarily reporting back to Santa because my son is already scared of him. I like the ideas above of something other than an elf like a reindeer.

kelti... kelticmom

Janet Kelley, you are right on! The dads do tend to get WAY into it. I think it's adorable. And fun. My husband is deployed, but everyday he asks me where the elf hid and gives me ideas for the next day and always wants pictures. Just something fun that the dads can get in on at Christmas.

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