Several years ago, my family was presented with a gift that, since then, has become a national Christmas holiday phenomenon - The Elf on the Shelf.
When I first saw it, I had the same reaction as a lot of parents who think, “What a clever idea! My children will love this!” What I soon discovered, though, is that this new holiday tradition, for parents, is akin to annually having the tip of each toe impaled by a sharpened peppermint stick, one digit at a time, over a period of consecutive days - kind of like an advent calendar of terrorism.
In case you’re blissfully ignorant, The Elf on the Shelf is a small, rather creepy-looking elf doll packaged with a picture book detailing the origins and practices of this plastic-faced menace. The idea is that the elf, arriving shortly after Thanksgiving from the northernmost melting ice cap, trespasses in a different household spot each day from which to monitor the behavior of your children until Christmas morning. Every night, the festive informant travels back to Santa (or possibly the Russians) to report his findings, only to return the next day to his new post so your kids can argue over who found him first. You even get to name your elf. Our daughters chose the name “Alfie,” despite my suggestion that we call him Prowler, Creeper, or Vladimir.
Sounds fun, right? It is, until you realize that the parents must be certain that for a solid month of excruciating nights, Alfie dutifully returns to a different location in the home to resume his snooping. If, by some tragic coincidence, Alfie forgets to move his felt carcass to a new spot, we parents are left scrambling for some lame excuse the next morning when our children mournfully ask, “What happened to Alfie? He’s still taped to the potty!” I usually tell mine that Alfie has a cold and Santa gave him a full dose of NyQuil, which can cause drowsiness, dizziness, and an inability to remember annoying Yuletide rituals.
Some parents, with clearly too much time on their hands, help the elf arrange himself into funny and creative positions, like lifting a toothpick and marshmallow barbell, or being reproachfully questioned before a Senate Judiciary Committee of My Little Ponies. In our house, Alfie is more practically-minded, often moving one centimeter per day across the toilet tank lid, always at risk of “accidentally” falling in.
As the years have passed, the creators of The Elf on the Shelf have found new ways to siphon cash out of parents by developing elaborate accessories and identity options for The Elf on the Shelf. For instance, today’s elf can change clothes, have a pet reindeer or St. Bernard, and come in a variety of skin tones and genders. Honestly, we’ve never thought about Alfie’s gender much, other than that time we caught him trying on one of Barbie’s ballet leotards. I just told my daughters that it’s perfectly natural for a grown man to try on his wife’s . . . I mean an elf to try on women’s athletic attire from time to time.
As my daughters grow older, I keep thinking that the year will come when they no longer want to be intruded upon by this stuffed nuisance. On Thanksgiving day this year, though, my youngest daughter, once again, asked when Alfie was going to show up. Unable to bring myself to deliver the fake news that he was crushed after falling asleep in Santa’s La-Z-Boy, I grudgingly reminded her that Alfie always comes to our house the day after Thanksgiving. Sure enough, as we were still digesting cranberries and giblets the next morning, there he sat with a mischievous gleam in his eye assuring me that he had a set of sharpened peppermint sticks with my name on them.
So Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night–until you’re jolted out of your sleep in a cold sweat wondering if the elf remembered to do his job. And if he forgot, just blame it on the NyQuil.