And perhaps there is no more divisive question among parents during the month of December than whether or not to “Elf-on-the-Shelf.”
Some people love this holiday tradition and really get into setting up elaborate elf-experiences. A quick search on Pinterest for “elf-on-the-shelf” ideas yields literally thousands of pins.
Others hate the pint-sized pipsqueak. And if you google “Why I Hate the Elf-on-the-Shelf” you will find hundreds articles on why the elf is so detested.
While I can appreciate a number of the concerns raised by these articles, today, I unashamedly plant myself firmly in the pro-elf camp.
This is a tradition that is just plain fun for me. I love hiding the elves in increasingly difficult places now that my children are older. And I love creating little scenes with them throughout the month.
I already dread the day when I have no children left at home to justify my elfscapades.
I was first introduced to the Elf-on-the-Shelf back in 2008 when my oldest son was in kindergarten. Not being familiar with the concept, I started asking questions and learned about the elf: a “scout” elf is sent by Santa to watch your child throughout the month of December. Each night the elf flies back to the North Pole to give Santa a report on how well (or not) your child is behaving, and when the elf returns to your house in the morning he hides in a different spot. Each morning, the children have fun trying to find their elf. In order for the elf to maintain their magic, he can’t be touched by the child – making the elf more a tool than a toy. You can read more about the Elf-on-a-Shelf tradition here.
Being a relatively new parent, with two small children at home and a third due in the early spring, I was intrigued by the idea and set out to our local gift store to pick up our very own elf.
I have to admit my first impression was not favorable. I found the elf a little bit creepy-looking. And I thought the $25 price tag for the boxed set – an elf and introductory story – was outrageous. Nonetheless, I was in the stage of life where I was building family holiday traditions and I pictured many years of Christmas magic in front of us.
And, if we are being honest, I didn’t want my kids to feel left out when everyone was talking about their elves at school. I know this is not a great reason to participate in the Elf-on-the-Shelf activity, but I did not want them to be left out of the fun. So, I only somewhat regretfully pluck down my credit card and brought the elf home. Although there was a part of me that wondered if my kids would even be interested in this little red stuffed guy.
Immediately upon introducing our elf to the kiddos, however, I was reassured. They loved the idea of searching for our scout elf every morning. And, blessedly, were still young enough, that they even didn’t fight too much about his name, settling upon Pete somewhat easily.
And once my son returned to school and the kids started talking about their elves, Pete just became another part of the annual Christmas magic with my children. One they looked forward to with anticipation in each year. In fact, some years we have done a countdown for Pet’s arrival. I wrote about some of our experiences with Pete in this post.
In those early days Pinterest didn’t exist – or if it did I was unaware of it. Blogs were just getting started and it never occurred to me, or most other parents, to search for elaborate elf displays. We simply moved the little guy from place to place, trying to hide him well enough that the kids had to hunt for him; but, not so well that toddlers would never find him.
There were many nights that we forgot to move Pete, or that we struggled to find an acceptable hiding place – when the kids are young I recommend hiding the elf out of reach in order to avoid the inevitable meltdown that will accompany touching the elf – but with young kids you can get away with a lot of mistakes. Moving the elf while the kids are at school or napping, or leaving a note that he wasn’t feeling well – can solve most problems. Little kids will believe almost anything.
I know that this in itself is a controversial statement. There are many parents who believe we should not mislead kids and that we should always tell them the truth. I’m not going to get into a debate about the relative merits of complete honestly with preschoolers. This is a fun post on why I personally like the elf. It is not an attempt to persuade anyone else to adopt this tradition nor a critique of anyone else’s positions or beliefs. I respect that we all have different opinions. This is just mine.
Over the years, as the Elf became more ingrained in Christmas culture, the stakes began to rise. Instead of just tucking the elf behind the curtains, elves were engaging in play with children’s toys, making mischief and leaving gifts behind. And I have to admit, although these set-ups are definitely more work, this is when I really got into the Elf-on-the-Shelf tradition.
I often struggled by mid-month to find a creative hiding place. But when it comes to setting up an elf-experience I have more ideas than days. And it only takes a few minutes each night or morning to set up a fun display.
I love that most of my elf set-ups require no extra money. They simply use or repurpose household items that we already have – like fish bowls, cake dishes, toys, balloons, paper bags and stuffed animals.
I have invested in some Elf-on-the-Shelf props, including pajamas, a suitcase, and some clothing, but this has been done over time and the props are reused every year, making their cost per use minimal.
Sometimes our elves do bring small gifts to my children – things like Christmas socks, a Christmas game, a new book or a new ornament for the tree. These are things that I would have purchased for my children anyway. But instead of putting them under the Tree or in a Christmas stocking, I simply spread the gifts out throughout the month making each one a little bit more special. It’s also a great way to give a joint gift to all three kids.
Perhaps you noticed that I’ve been writing elves. Last year we added a girl elf, Izzy, to our family. This was at the request of my daughter, who no longer believes in Santa or elves, but who had such fond memories of our Elf traditions, she wanted to continue the magic a little longer by bringing a second elf into the mix.
Which is the main reason I love the Elf-on-the-Shelf so much – it brings my children so much joy. And it has provided so many memories. Over the years I have compiled many of our elf-adventures into small photo books, and even my almost-15 year old still pulls out those albums and smiles over Pete’s antics.
Each day my kids bound out of bed and run through the house looking for Pete and Izzy. Well, not Kevin so much, but if the elves aren’t in an obvious spot, he still asks me what they are up to each day.
And lets face it, my kids are growing up quickly. Gretchen Ruben said it best when she said, “The days are long, but the years are short.” I now have a 15, 11 and 8 year old. I’m not sure how much longer the Christmas magic is going to continue in my house. I am so grateful that I took the time to create this memorable experiences when my kids were little.
Also, as my kids got older our days got busier. The month of December which used to be all candy canes and gingerbread is now just another month on the calendar chock full of activities and homework. Many of our early traditions have been abandoned or cut-back significantly.
But there is always time for the Elf-on-the Shelf. It does take some planning on my part, but in terms of active time for the kiddos it only takes a few minutes to hunt for and enjoy the elves latest escapade. And I love that now my kids all snap a pic of their elves each morning and share with their friends. That alone should prove how much this tradition means to them.
Some days I do create elaborate displays, like this zipline. Other nights (or more likely mornings) I simply tuck the elves under a blanket or into the napkin basket and call it a night. Generally, our elves are well-behaved. Sometimes they make a mess, by cooking breakfast or wrapping gifts (also both things I have to anyway); but they don’t cause trouble because that doesn’t make sense to me.
The tradition only becomes a chore if you let it. But as long as I can remember this is supposed to be fun for kids and parents alike. I love that I still have the ability to create magical moments for my children.
Remember, you are in control of how this tradition, should you choose to adopt it, works in your house. You set the guidelines and the rules. You determine when the elf arrives and what he or she does in hour home.
P.S.: I apologize for the poor quality of these pictures. Most of them were taken with my phone for social media posts.