Can We Please Be Done with Elf on the Shelf?

This past August, on a particularly humid day, I turned to Pinterest for some ideas about how to keep my kids entertained while we all sweated through our summer clothes. I hadn’t even made it through my first scroll when suddenly there was a video for a DIY Elf on the Shelf project that was “sure to make you the most popular mom.”

I found myself incredibly annoyed.

If you’ve never heard of Elf on the Shelf (where have you been?) it is a Christmas tradition in which parents employ the help of one of Santa’s elves to keep kids behaving well during the holiday.

The phenomenon started in 2005 when a book called “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition” written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell went viral. The basic premise of the book is that Santa sends a “scout elf” to a child’s house to hide and spy on the family during the day then report back to the north pole at night. The elf must return back to the house before morning and hide in a new place.

Kids are encouraged to love their elf because it’s through the magic of love that the elf can earn their Christmas magic. But be warned, the elf will disappear if a child touches it. Since kids only experience the elf as an inanimate object, they are easily hoodwinked into believing that proof of Santa exists based on the behavior of their family elf.

The fun happens when kids wake up each morning throughout the month of December and look around their house to see what kinds of hijinks their family elf got into overnight. Maybe it will be tied up and surrounded by G.I. Joe’s. Or maybe it will be trapped in the butter dish in the fridge.

Sounds cute, right?

But it’s not cute. It’s a ridiculous pile of work dressed up in one more thing that I have to do as a mom. And that’s where I have beef.

Increasingly, the holidays are becoming overly expensive, activity-packed adventures that fall on parents to organize, pay for, document and upload on social media. When did the holidays start to resemble an amusement park spectacle?

In order to make the elf special, I am encouraged by mom blogs and DIY sites everywhere to create epic scenes of hijinks for our family elf to get into. After my kids go to bed, the experts say, I am to curate and craft scenes that only a lovable elf would find himself in. The problem? It feels to me an awful lot like dressing up a nanny cam like Christmas with mild threats of tattling on my kids for acting like, well, kids.

The other problem? I can never remember to do it. After a few days of Elf on the Shelf, it becomes a chore that I have to do before I go to bed. There have been many times when I woke up in a dead panic at midnight because I forgot to move the Elf somewhere new.

Once you start using the Elf can you even stop? Will it ruin the magic of Santa for kids? That’s the fear. It’s sheer brilliant marketing; instill fear in the kids to behave and fear in the parents to not drop the ball and ruin everything.

Some of my mom friends go to extremes to accomplish this feat of holiday flair. They stay up late and create entire scenes of the elf baking — yes, actual cookies that are waiting on a holiday plate for their kids the next morning. Or they put their elf in a funny and yet awkward situation like hanging by his hands from a roll of toilet paper or get busted drinking mom’s wine. I’ve seen it all.

The thought of having to Pinterest my way through a nightly craft project that rivals the torture of doing homework with my kids is enough to give me anxiety. The pressure to never forget to set up the elf in some elaborate scenes to delight my kids (who hardly ever notice after day three) is exhausting.

Over the last few years, my family has re-evaluated what our holiday priorities are. For me, being able to remove tasks from my holiday things-to-do list is the most important. I went from loving the holidays to being incredibly stressed out by the sheer pile of work involved.

As my children grow I want to be able to remember their faces on Christmas morning or the hikes in the woods as a family on Christmas Eve day. I don’t want to think about all the anxiety and exhaustion wrapped up in being a mom at Christmas time.

So, while my friends love their Elf on the Shelf experience, I’ll be focusing on a more relaxed and casual approach to the holidays this year. Merry Christmas.

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