Thursday, December 5, 2013

Elf yourself :p

In the category of “reasons why I’m sometimes actually glad I’m not a parent,” you can file The Elf on the Shelf. ; ) I first heard of the Elf about two Christmases ago and, since then, he’s been popping up with growing (alarming??) frequency in my Facebook feed every December, as increasing numbers of my mommy friends with young children join the crowd, buy an Elf for their family and begin posting photos of his (are there any female Elfs??) daily antics.  

Mary Elizabeth Williams posted a great article on Salon last year – recently revived in my Facebook feed – about her loathing for the Elf (headline: "Santa's evil Orwellian spy"). Creepy surveillance aspects totally aside, the very idea of having to constantly come up with new & ever-more creative ideas on where to put the damned thing every single day during December (and then every December to come) stresses me out. (The Salon article mentions how one Elf apparently covered the family toilet in giftwrap;  I had a friend who actually did that last year -- maybe she got the idea from the same place?)

My hat is off to those moms who have the time, energy & creativity to do this kind of thing (and keep it up...) for their kids. But even if I WAS a mom, I don't think I'd be one of them. Between year end at work and doing what I can to get ready for a reasonably merry Christmas – albeit one without children -- December is already stressful enough for me as it is. ( I'm sure I'd forget at least one night.)  

There was a great blog post circulating earlier this year by Rage Against the Minivan, pleading “Let’s bring the holidays down a notch.” Reading it confirmed for me that it's probably a good thing I never got to be a mom -- because if this is what it takes to be a parent these days, I’d never make the cut.
The post was triggered by St. Patrick’s Day (anyone ever heard of a visiting leprechaun leaving gold-wrapped chocolate coins for kids?? -- me either...) and includes mention of the Elf as one example among many of Holidays (or perhaps that should be Parenting??) Gone Wild.

Now, I’m all for having fun & making the holidays special – even on what my husband likes to refer to as “Hallmark Holidays” (with accompanying eye roll). My mom has always made holidays like Christmas & Easter special for our family. I fondly remember coming downstairs for breakfast on Valentine's Day to find a little heart-shaped box of chocolates from her, sitting beside my cereal bowl -- I planned to do something similar for my kids.

But these days, it seems the pressure to do more, buy more, give more gifts -- on top of all the other pressures of modern life and parenting -- just keep ratcheting upward.  And who is benefiting here? The kids, maybe... but I daresay there are commercial interests at work here that have a vested interest in keeping us all celebrating more and more holidays (that you may never have heard of or barely noticed 20 years ago...), buying their products, doing their marketing for them by spreading the word (I.e., Facebook photos) -- and molding the next generation of parents & consumers to follow likewise. (And yes, I realize the irony that, by writing this post, I am spreading the word too.)  

What do you think of the Elf on a Shelf phenomenon and the whole trend to more and more elaborate holidays? If you're a parent, do you have an Elf for your kids? 


  1. I freely admit to finding holidays puzzling. I was raised to only celebrate two holidays: Remembrance Day and Canada Day. Birthdays were acknowledged but were very low key.

    I sort of understand Christmas at a superficial level but I don't get the tendency that many people have to overdo things - be it food or presents or "traditions" - and then complain about how exhausting the holidays are.

  2. Yes, yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes. And I don't even celebrate Christmas.

    It feels as if bigness has taken over. Quantity over quality.

  3. I do not like the Elf on the Shelf. My grandma had something very similar (dating from the 50s, I think), and I didn't like its smile. I'm really not into the "reporting back to Santa" idea because I'm trying to keep the girls mindful but not stressed. (So far no luck with I.)

    But more than that, I do find it an annoying ratcheting-up of the holiday, especially fueled by social media. It's a strain to think of something new and clever each night, just to get a few giggles from the kids the next morning and "likes" on FB while Mom or occasionally Dad is left cleaning up the mess that naughty elf made! (I have yet to read any FB posts about the kids cleaning up these messes.)

    Similarly, I was dismayed last March to find that some kids receive gifts from the leprechaun on St. Patrick's Day. What?!?!

    I have enough going on with the extra holiday of St. Nicholas Day (today! girls have a snow day, too, so they will be so excited) and daily Advent practices: opening two calendars, one of which has an activity for the day; a good deeds manger in which the child gets a piece of straw to put in a box for each good deed, to make a soft and caring bed for the baby Jesus figurine that is added on Christmas Eve; and lighting Advent candles and reading a paragraph based on Scripture every night.

    I can handle only so many questions about Santa per day, and I. especially has some real doozies that I would not have thought about as a preschooler, because we didn't celebrate St. Nicholas Day back home. She has asked probing questions about St. Nicholas, angels, heaven vs. North Pole, whether other saints have been given superpowers and their own little magical lands, and WHY toys are not evenly distributed if St. Nicholas is a saint and an angel. Whoa. I give her 2 more years, tops, before she figures it all out.

    N. is totally laidback and imaginative, so she doesn't harass me with logistical questions. But she thinks elves are creepy, so the Elf will never be on a shelf in our home.

  4. Aerotropolitan ComitissaFriday, December 06, 2013 8:26:00 AM

    I am actually hearing about this for the first time, because apparently I've had my head in the sand.

    It's really tough not to get sucked in to keeping up with the Jones's, especially now the Jones's can get into our living rooms through social media. And we have to keep up with all of them! Not just the group on average, but each of them individually. Don't we?

    I love holidays and I think if everyone's enjoying elves on shelves then that is wonderful, but when it stops being fun that's pretty much time to walk away. I mean sure, there might be compromises here and there, a bit of extra effort for the benefit of a loved one, but sensible amounts, give AND take. Balance.

    You have to draw your own, strong line in the sand, though.

  5. Hi, here from Mel's roundup. I completely agree with you about the commercial interests driving the a lot of the new holiday "traditions". But I have to admit, I am a little dismayed by how often mothers seem to feel judged and less than by comparing themselves to what others do (or post on social media). Meagan Francis said it really well here:

    Like you mentioned, if its someone's style to plan elaborate Elf on a Shelf shenanigans every night, great for them! "Ratcheting up the holidays" may be a great creative outlet for some. I choose to spend my time & energies elsewhere---neither one is better than the other. If it energized you and makes you happy---great. If you're doing it because you feel you "have to", then you have to think about why you feel that way.
    And finally (sorry I have thoughts about this!) this issue of making holidays super-special is limited to a very small, extremely privileged slice of society. And limited even further to women, too! Can you imagine men feeling bad about themselves because they aren't making the holidays magical enough? I think we need to realize that we can't be EVERYTHING, and that is OK. It is OK to have different priorities. Our kids and families will still have fun and remember the holidays as fondly as we remember our own simple childhood traditions.

  6. I'm not yet a parent, but I refuse to buy an elf when my son arrives. My sister has one, but I think it's too much. I have fabulous childhood memories and ADORE holidays; however, a small acknowledgement is enough for most ( milk at breakfast for St. Paddy's day. Easy, quick, and done). I really don't understand the need to create 24 messes each year to clean up --the kids can't possibly remember every single one. I will opt for fewer, more meaningful, traditions myself.

  7. We are definitely not doing Elf on the Shelf. Maybe I could pull this off one month for fun: LOL but I would never do Elf on the Shelf. It's creepy, and I don't like the spying aspect and commercialism. I loved the article about taking the holidays down a notch, I read it and I just nodded my head... people lose sight of everything with all this commercialism and one upping.

  8. I won't play the elf. Although now I'm tempted to get one and stick a skirt on it! I agree , holidays are totally out of control. Consumerism at its worst.

  9. I totally agree with your sentiments and the other commenters. I have three boys and they get enough treats and presents over the holidays without adding more new traditions that involve even more effort and more time than the holidays require already. I'd rather spend the time with my sons or enjoying some quiet time over the holiday evenings myself. For those parents who love doing Elf on the Shelf, have a ball if you enjoy it! Let's all agree not to put anymore pressure on ourselves this Christmas and just focus on peace and joy :)

  10. We have an elf. I do not like the elf, but it was a gift from a grandparent, so I feel like it has to come out this time of year.

    I'm all for surprises and traditions, but I don't like the commercial or surveillance aspects. Plus, it's deeply disingenuous; Dot could paint our couch purple and throw tantrums from here to the 25th and she's still getting presents from Santa.

  11. I think the elf is totally creepy and I hadn't even heard about the surveillance part of it. No thank you. This is one that sort of makes me glad not to have kids too. I also know friends who give holiday gifts for every holiday even the hallmark ones and it seems so much like over kill.

  12. Ok, pardon my language, but the damned Elf freaks my shit out! Seriously! Those eyes? That evil smirk? Really, he looks like a serial killer! I just know if I ever had one he'd be sitting there just WAITING for me to go to sleep so he can come to life and butcher me in my sleep! I have nightmares about the elf. And apparently I have issues. :)

    But all kidding aside, I totally agree. I think it's ridiculous. And creepy.

    I also feel like BIG has taken over. It's all about outdoing, outbuying, outEVERYTHINGing everyone else. My husband and I are getting back to basics this year and really focusing on the faith aspect of Christmas. We are doing daily Advent devotions, we've made a homemade Advent wreath, we will be doing a Jesse Tree devotional, and really trying to focus on the SPIRIT rather than the commercialism of Christmas.

    When I was young, my mom was excellent about "celebrating" all the holidays. Green pancakes and milk for St. Patrick's Day, a handmade Valentine and small box of chocolates on Valentine's day, stuff like that. Birthdays were always a big deal...but not in a monetary way. We always had a home-baked cake, the birthday girl got to pick a special dinner, and we were always celebrated. My mom still does that for us and my sister and I are 42 and soon-to-be 40!

    Anyway, back to the will never EVER in any way shape or form be a part of my future Christmas celebrations if we are lucky enough to have/adopt a child. *creepy shivers*

  13. Here from the Roundup, and totally with you. Actually I haven't gotten over the fact that advent calendars, which when I was a kid involved opening a little door (etc.) each day to find a different little picture or saying behind it, now contain chocolate. I don't need another opportunity to get my kid sweets, especially this month (And I am not at all a grinch about that! But there is no shortage of sweet/snack/junk food available to him). So, no.

    I got a kick out of Dinovember (you can google it if you don't know it), which seemed to me much more creative than the elf (the origins of which are, as far as I know, commercial?). But even that, were I to adopt it (I haven't) would involve something like 3 or 4 events over the course of the month, not something daily.

  14. since we're traveling this year for the holidays, there's nary a sign of holiday gear and I feel liberated for it!

  15. Not a parent and I'm with you n the eye roll but this year I decided to have a little fun - so I bought an elf. i bought it for my husband...tomake him laugh during a holiday time that is really hard after almost 8 years of infertility.

    Mission accomplished.

    Our elf is a drunk and he does completely inappropriate things (aka:adult humor)... But it's brought laughter into my home so for that reason, I now understand the moms who do it.

    With the holidays I say to each his own - do what works for you, for your on own reasons, on your own terms. If you don't want leprechauns destroying your house in March - don't do it. if you do - don't let anyone make you feel bad about it.

  16. I absolutely love the post by "Mr. Thompson and Me" regarding using the Elf for some inappropriate fun with her DH! Too funny! What a great way to take a kid-centric toy "outside of the box"!

    For me, the Elf on the Shelf is just another reason to hate the hoopla and commercialism surrounding Christmas. I do love Christmas for its simple beauty of giving, love, and peace. I enjoy decorating our tree and filling DH's stocking with some candy and little gifts. But I hate the long Christmas wish lists from our nephews and niece (Some of the lists get emailed or given to us, unsolicited). I hate the stress and the feelings of obligatory attendance at an event or gathering. And I honestly don't know of anyone who truly enjoys the obligations that Christmastime brings. And I think that's a shame.

    And the Elf. One of my good friends was introduced to the Elf through her four-year-old's preschool last year. What's odd to me is that The Elf appears to be something that is supposed to bring the kids fun, but all it seemed to do was stress out my friend and freak out her preschooler!

    I was raised not believing in Santa. So to me and my sisters, Santa was just a fun story. We loved Christmas and received presents, but there was also equal emphasis on giving to others. So while I realize that I'm in a minority, I really don't understand the need for adults to press another fictional character such as the Elf onto their children. Why give them something else that parents will later have to tell them doesn't exist? But I realize my viewpoint is obviously very biased due to my experiences. I truly don't judge others. I just sometimes don't understand the need for such things. :)

    I did stumble across some funny pics of the Elf on Yahoo...thought I'd share it:

    Thanks for post, Loribeth! :)

  17. Completely meaningless to me, I vaguely recall hearing something about it. Ridiculous and creepy.

  18. I would not do the elf if I had kids, too much work, and a bit creepy. I have seen girl elves, and kits with skirts this year. I also agree that things have gotten too intense for each and every holiday.

  19. I just came hunting for this article, specifically because I wanted to read the Rage Against the Minivan piece again... and found the link was broken. I did a search on her site, and here it is:

    In a similar vein: