The Elf on The Shelf Is Back (Epic Eye Roll)

by Clint Edwards
Ben Hider / Getty Images

That stupid elf hit the shelf in 2005. Did you realize that? It has been part of our lives for 12 years now, and in that time, it has been a source of love and hate. We picked one of those stupid things up online when my oldest was 4. We read the story and we named it “Therchie.”

Well, we didn’t name it anything, actually. My son did. I would never name anything Therchie. And then, we started moving it around the house.

I can’t speak for all parents, but I’m going to go ahead and speak for most of us. We got that Elf as a control measure. Sure, it was a cute story about an elf checking in on children and reporting to Santa, but the main reason we got that sucker was so that my wife and I could point at the elf every time our son got defiant and ominously say, “Santa is watching.” Naturally, this all seemed cute and fun, but when I think back on the original idea, it all seems very Big Brother. (Sorry, kid.)

Somehow, though, over the past 12 years, and with the help of Pinterest, the Elf On The Shelf has turned into something incredibly complex. You no longer just move the elf from place to place in your home. That’s for amateurs. Now, it has become a huge list pros and cons.

I mean honestly, how many parents have forgotten to move that sucker? I know I have. So what did you do? You lied about it. The first time it happened to me, I told my son that he probably did something naughty in that room, so the elf stuck around so he could redeem himself. Tristan looked terrified, then he started picking up his toys in the living room. In so many ways, for me, as a parent who was tired of fighting him to pick up his room, it felt like a victory. And yet, I totally lied to my son. For what? To protect an elf? To protect Santa? In reality, it was a parenting low.

Then, naturally, parents started taking it too far, creating elaborate little scenes each night of their silly little elf getting into mischief and posting pictures of it online. Suddenly, all parents were left wondering if we should be doing something like that? Were we failing because we didn’t make it look like the elf got into the toothpaste? Or made out with Queen Elsa? No, we weren’t. Obviously.

How the damn elf became a source of parenting shame is beyond me, and yet it happened, and suddenly we were all sprinkling flour on the counter so our elf could make snow angels, only to be left with another mess to clean up, as if parents don’t already have enough messes to clean up.

But then again, on the flipside, I have to admit, that stupid elf adds something to our holiday traditions. Our elf shows up the morning after we put up our tree. He is always sitting near the top, well out of our children’s reach, gazing down on the living room with his judgmental, creepy little eyes.

And now, it’s not just my son. It’s my son, and his two younger sisters. All three of our children look forward to it each year, same as they do sitting on Santa’s lap. Every morning in December, my children hop out of bed and look for the elf. They try to talk to the elf. They dare each other to touch the elf to see if it will move. They sneak out of bed to see if the elf did, in fact, report back to Santa. They think a little more about their own behavior, how they treat their siblings, and how well they do their chores because the elf might be watching.

Kids talk to the elf. Read their Christmas wish list to it. Ask it questions about the North Pole.

Despite the annoyance, all of it is adorable.

In fact, I don’t know if I will be able to remember a Christmas without the elf as part of it. As much as I want to get rid of the stupid thing, as much as I am tired of crawling out of bed in the night to move it, or scrambling to move it first thing in the morning before my children notice that it didn’t move, I cannot help but admit…the elf does add a little magic.

My oldest is 10 now, almost 11. When he was 8, I was asked to play Santa at a church Christmas party. He sat on my lap, looked into my eyes, listened to my voice, and he knew. That was the end of the magic for him. That Christmas Eve, he stayed up with my wife and me to help put out the presents. As we placed them under the tree, he looked up at the elf gazing down at him from the coat rack.

“Do you want to hold him?” I asked.

He looked at me with confused, half-frightened blue eyes and nodded.

I handed it to him, and he held it with the gentle grace one might reserve for a newborn child.

“It’s just a doll,” he said.

I nodded.

He looked down at it, and I could see something leaving him, and it wasn’t until that moment that I realized how much our elf had meant to his Christmas spirit.

He handed it back to me, let out a breath, and then went back to work putting presents under the tree.

He now helps me move the elf each evening. He’s become Santa’s Little Helper. It’s kind of crazy to think that our elf has gone full circle like this. I have to assume many of you have had a similar experience.

So yeah, this elf is creepy and annoying, but the kids love it. So I’ll keep doing it to keep their holidays magical for as long as I can. I bet you will too.