I am all about The Christmas Spirit, but the ubiquitous little elf that makes his living spying on children has got to go. Thank goodness my kids are old enough to have missed jumping on this bandwagon, because the last thing I needed back when I was a frazzled mom of toddlers was the pressure to maintain one more thread in the tangled web of lies that is secular Christmas.
Don’t get me wrong – I lied plenty. I sprinkled “reindeer food” (raw oats and glitter) in the front yard to attract the sleigh. I left out cookies and milk, and then nibbled at those cookies when the coast was clear. But would I have tiptoed around every night in the moments after the kids fell asleep to cleverly position a toy elf in a charming milieu of holiday magic? Not likely. That was Mommy’s wine time.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon – congratulations on your purity – let me explain. In an epiphany of marketing genius rivaled only by the invention of Beanie Babies and Silly Bandz, a mother and daughter team wrote a book that features a delightful little elf who appears in a different spot in your home each morning leading up to Christmas (his job is to report to Santa on the naughty/nice situation).
The book’s full title is “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition,” an ambitious label which plays fast and loose with the strict definition of “tradition” since the book was only just published in 2005. Perhaps parents who believe Christmas will be even more special if they have one additional thing to do each day will believe anything, because a lot of them spent $29.95 on a box set (including the toy elf and the story book) described as “a timeless holiday tradition that the whole family can enjoy.”
The only traditional element of this story is how it continues the lucrative commercialization of Christmas, with $16.6 million in sales by 2011 and a steady blizzard of shameless cross-promotions and spin-offs (an animated TV show, a helium balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and a new line of birthday products).
Although I do not have one of these creepy little urchins under my own roof, I follow the antics of the many shelf elves residing among my Facebook friends. I have some pretty impressive friends who are up to their mistletoe in regular life (work, childcare, cooking, volunteer work, and occasional self-grooming) and holiday duties (sending cards, buying last-minute gifts for teachers and Secret Santas, tasting eggnog recipes), yet they STILL find time to cleverly hide the elf every day AND photograph it AND post it on Facebook so the rest of can marvel at how much energy all this requires.
Relax, dear ones. I am already thoroughly impressed if your Christmas card arrives before New Year’s Day and your photo doesn’t include an inadvertent wardrobe malfunction, as in this episode of Seinfeld.
As many of my Facebook friends graduate from the Santa years along with me, the elf pictures are a-changin’. In addition to having endless creative energy, my group of friends has a pretty twisted sense of humor (either that or the elves, having observed so much “naughty” behavior over the years, have become hopelessly corrupted).
I guess the evolution of the elf isn’t so different from the evolution of celebrating Christmas with children. When they’re very little, everything is innocent and joyous. As we watch them experience their first snowfall and see their first Christmas tree aglow with lights, it’s hard not to feel the magic of the season. Then a little bit of your spirit dies the first time your child rips open a gift and complains that it’s not exactly what he wanted and why did his sister get something better and why must he write a thank you note if he already thanked Grandma on the phone?
As children become teenagers, the entire façade collapses. It’s been many years since I’ve sprinkled reindeer food on the front lawn, and now we simply eat the cookies together before bedtime on Christmas Eve. This time of year, I just want to turn back the clock. I want to go back to the days when Christmas didn’t include the Elf on the Shelf or Facebook. The days before I had teenagers who are more interested in iPads than catching snowflakes.
I’ve decided the way to experience the true meaning of Christmas, to re-capture that spirit and innocence, is to celebrate as I did when my children were babies. Even better, I should celebrate the simplicity of the very first Christmas, and the very first baby. Remember that?