The Elf on the Shelf

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There are so many traditions associated with this time of year – advent calendars, nativities, Christmas parades, tree lighting ceremonies, Christmas caroling. It seems that many families have incorporated another tradition into their yuletide festivites – the Elf on the Shelf.

The Elf on the Shelf is a book by mother-daughter team Carol V. Aebersold and Chanda A. Bell about an elf who is the eyes and ears of Santa and fills in the Jolly One on who is good and who is bad, who is sleeping and who’s not, etc., so that he can distribute (or not distribute) gifts at Christmas time. One only has to be on Facebook during the holiday season to see how big this “new” Christmas tradition has become. But The Elf on the Shelf is not just a book that you read to your children – it’s an experience.

Besides reading the book, you are supposed to have your very own elf doll which you name. The premise is that this elf returns to the North Pole and reports to Santa each night while the children are sleeping. The next morning the children look for the elf to see where he is and sometimes what mischief he has gotten into. Parents help perpetuate the fantasy by setting up little vignettes of naughtiness. Perhaps a flour-dusted elf sits on the kitchen counter with a plate of cookies he made during the night. Or maybe he’s in the bathroom where he’s written Christmas-themed graffiti all over the bathroom mirror. Or he could be wrapped in ribbons of toilet paper after having “rolled” the living room. You get the picture.

In this post I explained why my family doesn’t do Santa. So it should come as no surprise to you that when it comes to The Elf on the Shelf, I’m not a fan. I encourage you to read my post on Santa, but there are two main reasons why we don’t participate in this holiday tradition: (1) It isn’t true and (2) Santa Claus is given attributes that belong to God and God alone. These 2 reasons also apply to The Elf on the Shelf.

As in the Santa scenario, if a child is perfectly aware that this is a game of pretend, then I have no problem with it. However, for most parents the truth sucks all the fun out of it. The deception is the entertaining part of it to adults. But children have just as much fun when they know the truth, and then they don’t have to suffer the disappointment when they learn they’ve been duped. As a Christian, I want my children to know that I am an upholder of TRUTH.

Since the elf reports to Santa, reason #2 also remains valid in this case. Only God is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. God’s not big on sharing His glory (Isaiah 48:11). I sure don’t want to be responsible for falsely teaching little ones that there is someone else who is all-knowing and all-powerful, do you?

On the flap of the book jacket the mother part of the author duo, Carol Aebersold, says, “Unwittingly, the tradition provided an added benefit: it helped the children to better control themselves. All it took was a gentle reminder that the ‘elf is watching,’ for errant behavior to be modified.” To that I say, “Bwahahahahahaha!!!! Har dee har har har har!!! Ha ha ha ha ha!!!” Excuse me while I wipe the tears of laughter running down my cheeks… Is she serious? Modified behavior? For how long? Two months? Two weeks? Two days??? More like two minutes!

I’ll give you an example. One week shortly before Christmas a few years ago my husband and I were in the grocery store. We ran into someone we knew who was doing the grocery shopping with his two young children. They were behaving – how do I say this? – HORRENDOUSLY. Terrible. Horrible. Out of control. He needed to park his shopping cart, take them home, and take care of business. But what did he do? Every few minutes he’d say something like, “Come back… Don’t put that in the cart… Stop running… Don’t forget the elf is watching!” He actually told us how effective the Elf was in controlling his children’s behavior. I don’t know how he said it with a straight face.

Besides, shouldn’t HE be controlling his children’s behavior? Shouldn’t PARENTS be modifying conduct? Especially since that little elf is only around for about one month a year! And have you ever known anyone who truly made good on any of their threats to their children about not getting presents for Christmas because they were naughty? I certainly don’t.

I can’t help but wonder what else we’ll come up with to shift our focus from the holy and sacred to the irreverent and silly. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jesus is enough! He truly is. He is not just enough – He’s EVERYTHING. Here are some wonderful ideas for holiday family activities that center around Christ:

Advent Taper Candle from Modern Homemakers

Christmas Advent Candle from Biedermann and Sons

Advent Calendars from

Free Printable Advent Calendars from Google search

Free Advent Devotional shared by Women Living Well Ministries

I encourage you to put away The Elf on the Shelf, get out the manger scene and teach your children about the TRUE meaning of Christmas and how Jesus is better than any elf!

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