I walked into my friend’s house, and her elf was lying beneath a tiny “blanket” (a paper towel) in the corner of her kitchen. I looked up at her with an eyebrow raised, and she said, “The elf is sick. He’s in bed for a few days.” I laughed and swallowed the urge to say ‘I told you so.’ It was 17 days into December, and she was sick of moving the freaking elf or waking up to disappointed kids when she forgot. This little sickness-scam bought her a couple of days while the elf recovered from the flu.
I have lots of friends who love Elf on the Shelf as a sweet game with their kids. If you love it then knock yourself out! Enjoy! But I never got on board. I just saw Elf on the Shelf a little differently. If you’re an elf-lover, don’t hate me for telling you why.
1. Integrity vs. good behavior
The story of Elf on the Shelf is that he’s always watching and reporting back to Santa about who’s naughty and who’s nice. The rest of the year, I try to teach my kids that integrity is what you do when no one is watching. I know it is subtle, but part of me thinks this elf teaches my kids the idea that we should perform well when something we want is at stake. Of course, I want my kids to behave. NOW. However, I ultimately decided that even if the Elf might get me some Decembers of good behavior, it actually worked against my long term goal of integrity. Some of my friends give me a hard time for being over-the-top with my thoughts on this, but I believe we send our kids subtle messages about whats important all the time, and it forms them more than we know. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” I want everything I do as a parent to reinforce integrity and accountability before God, whether or not I (or the elf) are watching.
2. The December crush
I feel for all of us. Every parent has some sort of desire for their kids to have “magical” Christmas memories. So we decorate everything, bake everything, try to keep up at work, be holiday-party-ready, attend all the special events and get the gifts under the tree while making hot chocolate for the fun family holiday outings. At the end of the marathon days in December, I just decided I didn’t want or need the added everyday pressure of increasingly creative executions for arranging an elf. Yes, my kids did the “everyone at school has an elf, why don’t we?” And I just told them honestly the same reasons I’m writing here. For my sanity, I keep to a few holiday traditions that I can actually do with good cheer. It’s OK to let yourself off the hook on the unending holiday “musts.” I say no to the Elf’s demands, and it feels good!
You might think I’m wrong about everything above and love the elf. You may be concluding I’m too serious, (a few people have accused me of that!) but there’s one more and it’s the most important to me.
3. It’s not the story I want to tell.
There is an actual, real Christmas story and it’s about God coming to earth as a human being with the goal to save me from my sin and offer me the gift of eternal life. There’s so much great fodder in the real Christmas story—the heavenly choir, the terrified shepherds, the star in the sky, an angry king, a miraculous conceptions (make sure you’ve had a sex talk first if you get into that one: kids miss nothing!). You name it, its in there. We wanted our home and our memories wrapped around that story. This conviction has actually been incredibly freeing and helpful. It helps me make choices about how to decorate and what activities and traditions we do or don’t do. For instance, I’m not a Santa-hater but I never decorate with Santas. Instead, I do angels, lights, stars, etc. I like trees too because they’re neutral. These things just help me focus our minds and my home on this story:
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
I love Christmas. I want all the memories and magic, too. I’m just not doing the elf. I’m not very crafty, but I sure would love it if someone put creative energy into something as fun and engaging as the Elf — but wrapped it around the birth of Jesus. I’m thinking something with donkeys??? Just a thought. Now THAT would make me stay up late drinking wine and trying to get creative. And I’ll be the first one in line to pay you $29.99.
Until then, I’m still a ‘no’ on the elf.