Thursday, December 20, 2012

Through the Season on an Elf with No Name


We may have gone a little Elf crazy this year. It probably started with Schickabush and my willingness to respond to the Wordsmith Studio writing prompt showing an Elf crouched in the branches of a Christmas tree. 

Then we read this post about the preposterousness of the Elfing taking place in households like ours.  Not the kind of Elfing my friend Khara and I chatted about in a #wschat a couple of weeks in a row, but the tattle tailing Chinese-made imp from the North Pole, complete with book and handsome box.

Our friends have their tween-aged daughter doing said Elfing in their home. She’s discovered Pinterest boards dedicated to Elf on the Shelf ideas.
Fishing in the toilet, being tied up by the home’s resident toys, having a marshmallow fight, diving head-first into a bag of M&Ms.
There is a counter culture of bad Elfing occurring, too. Elf in a Barbie convertible with the famous blonde driving. Elf with an empty bottle of wine, a red-stained glass, and a spilled prescription bottle. Elf with a hand full of $1 bills and a topless Bratz doll wrapped around a stripper pole. 

Bad Elfing: something for which we may all eventually need therapy.

Too Late

We ruined Elf at our house early on. My friends forgot to tell me two really important things about Elf on the Shelf. The first was that the kid isn’t supposed to touch the thing.

We got Elf when Hollie was two and I immediately broke open the box and handed him to her. Only after we read the book did I realize she wasn’t supposed to touch him and by then she’d saturated the edges of his cheap poisonous-glued-on hat with slobbery toddler kisses. Oops.

The second thing my friends (if you can call them that) didn’t bother to tell me was that the whole product is a lousy waste of money. It’s $29.95 worth of garbage. You can almost hear the authors singing, “sucker!”

Unskilled Labor

Anyone who’s ever read a children’s book knows this one is lousy. This book is written in first person from the Elf’s point of view and then informs the kids that the Elf can’t talk to them. What’s he doing narrating the book then? Writerly fail.

The story also delivers the rules of the game including the “don’t touch me” rule and follows it with the threat that Santa won’t know what the kid did if the Elf can’t go give report. This rule shows up on page 15. Help me understand what kid you’ve ever known that sat quietly while you read 15 pages of lousy book before reaching for the bright red cartoon character toy thingy that came with it? Execution fail.

Phrases like “noting your file” and “small acts of kindness” indicate the thing was written by grown-ups. What kid knows what a file is? I like the clich├ęs “the word will get out” and “little old me” which have no purpose whatsoever except syllabic filling and rhyming. Rhyming is hard. I know that. But come on. Language fail.

And before you think I’m being too tough on them, let me remind you: I’m a literature snob. So yes, I’m going to critique a kids’ book. You want a good kids’ book? I’d suggest I Love You, Stinky Face, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, any of the Skippy John Jones books and Pinkalicious.

Elf with Sleigh + 9 tiny reindeer
The Elf itself is a plastic head glued to a felt body with no filling in the tummy, arms, or legs. Just hollow. Seriously. Craft fair vendors make better dolls. No wonder the kid “can’t” touch the Elf, there’s no way they’d believe the thing came to life if they got a hold of it. Can we say profit margin? Stuffed toy fail.

Fair Warning

The one thing my friends did tell me was to be careful with the naming of the elf. Their son named his elf Schickabursch. Who even remembers that without writing it down? Pretty sure the name evolved from some six syllable toddler word.

So, to avoid a complex alias, I didn’t let HB name it. She’s four. This year alone she’s named a paper elephant “Pam Pam” and informed me that Pam Pam was mommy to “Bajeeta.”

She’s named  a pink mouse “Ayla” despite his name already being Emelius Brown. I named him myself during a Bedknobs and Broomsticks obsession in the fourth grade.

She has Guh-Gus, Borock, Finley, and Kasie, the purple snake. She can’t be trusted.

The first two years (ages 2 and 3) “Elf” could just be “Elf” because no one else had an “Elf.” But this year we watched the Elf on the Shelf TV special and it turns out that naming the Elf is a big deal. They even sing a song about it.

We went back to the book and sure enough, “the first time I come to the place you call home you quickly must give me a name of my own.” Quickly? Have we failed another EoS requirement?

It’s two years later and when I ask HB if she wants to name Elf she says, “sure, he’s Chippey.” Which, of course, is the Elf in the TV special. Awesome. That’s what a failed sense of urgency will get ya.
Elf & Meridas play with the bow and arrows

In Practice

The idea is good. Elf is physical proof that Santa sees you when you’re sleeping, knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good and I admit to using Elf to encourage being good for goodness sake.

There is a creepy side to the whole Santa voyeur thing which most kids decide is too much to rationalize about the time they’re ten or so. But at four and a half they’re gullible. How does the Santa-North-Pole-Elf thing work, mommy?

It’s magic and magic is creepy.

Status Check

So I spent $29.95 on this stupid thing and then broke it. Immediately. Once we read the book and were instructed to name Elf and then not touch him and we hadn’t done the first and had done the second, we became EoS losers.

But we’re still playing the game.

At Arlington National Cemetary
Our Elf has been in the cereal box, in the Tupperware cabinet, in the dining room wine glasses, in the kitchen chandelier, in the poinsettias on the fireplace, in the library playing chess with an out-matched Clemson Snowman, and on the upstairs railing poised to jump (“don’t do it, Elf! There’s so much to live for!”).

He’s also been caught reading Twilight to much younger toys, commandeering a makeshift sleigh pulled by wine-cork-reindeer, and with his legs sticking out from under the couch a la the Wicked Witch of the East. Today he’s sitting on the lap of a wooden monkey, with his arm around the monkey’s neck and the monkey’s hand on his knee. (smooch)

Here’s the score in the EoS “game”:

  • We have an Elf with no name.
  • We touch him all the time and take him everywhere.
  • His hands are no longer glued together.
  • He does, in fact, move around at night and arrive in different locations each morning.
  • He does convince HB to behave herself.
  • We have watched the Elf on the Shelf TV special about 900 times.
  • I have not yet gotten my thirty-bucks-worth, but I’m getting over it.

Except I keep telling parents who haven’t bought this thing yet: DON’T. Just go to the dollar store and get an elf and play the game.

Or, better, get a nice plush elf, maybe a gnome, and pretend with that toy instead of every morning wishing your friends (if you can call them that) had suggested just such a scam to you and saved you thirty bucks.

Here’s the best idea I’ve had so far: how about let your kid nominate one of her buddies who’s been with her all year to go make her case to Santa? You can feed them cookies to give them powers for the journey.


  1. It is probably a good thing that the elf wasn't around when my kids were little. I never would have been able to resist being naughty!

    1. It's definitely tempting. The stripper pic was so funny I just about worked that into the season; but we do have a 4 yr old, and it's probably not worth explaining :-)

  2. I am one of those "friends"! I gave a set to my niece and her husband. Think that is why we never hear from them? I did ask first if they wanted it.... Congrats - it sounds like the elf likes wine too. He is cordially invited to the next WSChat. I'm sure his input would be valuable.

    1. Ha, Carol! Thanks for stopping by Clemson Road. I really think I could box an "anti-EoS" kit and sell it. Wine not included.

    2. Ha! Carol, I just say that your "name" is "The Wife," and not "9 Inch Plate." I'm slow so this may be old news, but had to comment.

      What good is it if wine isn't included. I hope that at least wine is invited.

      Merry Christmas to you both and see you at the New Year's TweetChat!

  3. I have to confess that I'm guilty of buying an Elf on the Shelf for my youngest grandchildren a few years ago. Because my boys had had elves on the tree when they were little, I didn't see it as something evil, but then, I didn't read the book before I bought it, either! (Shame on me, but I think it was tightly enclosed in the box.) The elf in the top photo is one that belonged to my sons long before the current elf craze. He continues to nestle in the branches of our Christmas tree (he's there again this year), and the kids pay him little attention. He's a nostalgia trip for me, I guess, as are so many of the ornaments that adorn that tree year after year.

    What a great post, Kasie! I was overdue for some Christmas cheer. But aren't we just a little bit jealous that we didn't come up with the concept? (And we could have written a better book.)

    1. Oh, yes, ma'am. I sell intellectual property for a living but not at $30 a pop to unsuspecting schmucks. Very jealous indeed.

  4. We have yet to succumb to the elf in my household, but I know friends and schools that do it. It seems like a lot of hide-and-seek work (and a bit creepy to have a wandering elf). Also, I'm more for the idea of children wanting to behave in general, not only when they're being watched.

    1. Jennifer,

      Thanks for coming by Clemson Road. I agree, behavior should be a year-round thing and driven by self control and respect, not the threat of no presents. We have some other plans in place to instill gratitude and self control. Elf is really just a game.

  5. I heard a woman call into a radio show criticizing the use of this elf to keep kids in line - and the radio host asked if that wasn't what we have done for years with Santa anyway?

    I must have missed the elf on a shelf emergence - although I do see it everywhere this year here. I am with you Kasie, I would have been disappointed in the quality.

    I do LOVE your idea of a journey to Santa to plea your child's case by one of their daily companions - that's an interesting (and inspiring) idea. :D

    1. Maybe I'll write a kid's book to compete with the Elf thing. It'll be called "Santa's Congress" and you get to elect your representative!


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