Elf on the Shelf: Santa's Scout or KGB Spy?


I generally don't give a rat's whisker about Internet kerfuffles and do a fairly good job of ignoring inflammatory posts, ignorant status updates or pot-stirring tweets. 

I rant to Kent from time to time when I ignore his Internet Rule #1 and delve too far into unmoderated comment threads where humanity seems unsalvageable, but, on the whole, I let grievances roll. 

Which makes it all the more absurd that I feel compelled to speak up about a ridiculous, cherry-cheeked plastic elf. I'm talking about Elf on the Shelf, the object of an avalanche of scorn this holiday season. 

Every day, multiple times a day, I see people deriding the elf as a creepy, Orwellian agent of dread. Or, as described on Twitter, the "KGB of the North Pole, monitoring your child's every move."

That's a lot of dark baggage for a eight-inch magic sprite that my kids jump out of bed every morning to race to find. 

A dear friend shipped the elf to us four years ago, back before the elf went mass market or got his own animated show. We didn't know anything about him but I thought the picture book that accompanied the elf was charming. The premise: Santa sends scout elves to families to help him compile his "naughty and nice" list. The elves are adopted by the families and given names (Esme called ours Bixbean), then live with each family from the morning after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve. Every night, the elf flies home to Santa to report on the day's behavior, then alights in the house each morning in a new spot. 

The idea of the elf as Santa's scout doesn't strike me as any more twisted than merrily singing along to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

"He sees you when you're sleeping.

He knows when you're awake. 

He knows if you've been bad or good,

So be good for goodness sake."

But we never played up that part of Santa's story anyway and never tied the prospect of presents to good behavior. I don't make empty threats to my kids, and I'm loathe to tell them to knock it off or do something differently if I can't enforce it. I might have joked about the kids getting coal when I wrote this post, but I certainly didn't say it aloud to them.

Besides, the book doesn't actually focus on the elf as the tattletale of bad behavior. Instead, it portrays him as a cheery, playful sort who hides throughout the house, tells Santa about the good deeds the kids have done and entertains their Christmas wishes. 

In fact, there are only two pages of 26 that show the elf reporting naughty deeds. 

"I tell him if you have been good or been bad. The news of the day makes him happy or sad. A push or a shove I'll report to 'the Boss,' but small acts of kindness will not be a loss. In the car, at the park, or even at school the word will get out if you broke a rule."

Maybe that doesn't irk me because, as a Catholic school grad, I have an unusually high tolerance for the idea that we're always under the watchful eye of someone (not least of which is ourselves). 

I can relate to the visceral reaction that the actual elf is creepy; dolls remind me of dead babies. But surprisingly, I don't share the same critique of the elf.  I guess I see Bixbean through my kids' eyes, and they think he's adorable. 

Would I have gone out and bought the elf if we never received him as a gift? Probably not. But only because I would have found something more urgent to drop $30 on: pull-ups, class fees, groceries. 

I guess I'm just flummoxed by the collective contempt when there a far more menacing threats to our kids than a tiny elf. 

Dana blogs at Feast After Famine.

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