A month ago Rob sent me a text, “should we do this this year?” He was referring to “Elf on the Shelf”. We’d both seen pictures last year of funny elf poses and heard of co-workers kids enjoying elf hunting. Seemed fun. Who doesn’t love a scavenger hunt. “I’ll make an elf” I texted back.
I started by needle felting an elf head one evening while listening to my new favorite podcast, “Serial”–worth finding. After finishing one head, I still had three more shows left, so I made two more heads. (I hadn’t needle felted in so long–I’d forgotten how fun it is. Instant gratification compared to knitting. I felted a tiny bird for my niece while I was at it. I was a feltin’ fool. Wild evenings around here I tell you). In bits and pieces throughout the following week I made wire bodies then sewed cloth over them. Three elves for the shelves.
The evening before advent began we watched the “Elf on the Shelf” movie, as a way to introduce the story to the kids. We had not previewed the movie, but, I wish we had. We had imagined a fun story about a little elf that flies around at night, landing in a new place each morning to watch the children and report “naughty” behavior to Santa. We had imagined elves that the families thought were toys, but who came to life at night to get into elvish mischief.
What I hadn’t imagined was the commercialism built into the tradition. In the movie (I haven’t read the book, maybe its different?) these are not little elves that fly down the chimney on Santa’s behalf. They are elves that are boxed by Santa and shipped to stores to be sold to families. So now you too can drive to the store and buy a genuine elf from the North Pole to “adopt”and put it on the shelf. In the movie the whole family, aside from one doubting boy, all know the elf is alive–even though it strangely pretends not to be– and the parents warn the kids not to touch the elf, or its magic will disappear and it will never be able to return to the North Pole. In one scene the curious, doubting boy bullies the elf into moving and knocks him off the shelf therefore taking his magic. He drags himself to the yard, and is only saved from a frozen demise by other elves who happen to notice he needs help.
It wasn’t this harrowing moment in the snow that seemed in appropriate for our kids. For better or worse, they have been exposed to far more media violence than I would like, and are fairly insensitive to PG drama (Pirates of the Caribbean is way scarier). To me, it is creepier to have a whole family insisting that a doll is real, but all the while the doll pretends to not be real, only to come to life when no one is watching. Its like some strange Halloween thriller where evil toys come to life and all the adults are in on it. Far more disturbing, is that not only is Christmas about buying presents, but we now must buy our elves too? No more is Santa and his magic universal and heart felt–but boxed and sold in stores. No more can we encourage curious investigation of our children’s interests, but they must look, not touch, and believe everything they are
I’m sure I’ve written about our family’s stance on Santa before (thought try as I might I can’t seem to find a post about it. Though I did find all kinds of yummy baby goodness and sweet missing tooth smiles while searching the archives). So I won’t elaborate except to say that we don’t play up Santa Claus at our house. We refer to Santa as the spirit of Christmas. When Wylie was three, like so many parents, we told him the story as Christmas approached. We explained that Santa comes down the chimney to leave presents, but only when children are sleeping. He became very concerned and asked if Santa would bite him if he saw him. That was the point when I knew that I couldn’t continue to fabricate a lie that was worrisome to my very literal child. Wylie is a scientist. He wanted facts. By the time he was 4 he was hounding us to tell him the “truth” about Santa. Was there really truly a stranger that came down the chimney?” It may have been different if Juniper had been first born. This magic loving child may have eaten up the Santa story and changed realities to fit her beliefs well past the point of honest believing. Perhaps. But it didn’t happen that way. We read the “True Story of Santa Claus” from history, explaining the story of St. Nicholas and his gifts. We acknowledge that we celebrate the magic of the season and how it inspires us to give to those we love and those in need. We craft as much as we buy. Did I say I wasn’t going to elaborate? I lied.
Even so, I understand why other families do honor the Santa story. I can totally get behind the simple childhood innocence and belief that anything can happen, particularly in this magical holiday time of lights in the darkness and sparkly snow. Even fat men squeezing down tiny chimneys. I don’t judge this story or families who use it. Its just not the right choice for us.
But, Santa selling elves to families so they can spy on children? Elves frustrating children to the point of anger? I can’t get behind that. And I think most families would agree. I think most families like the game of hiding the elf. Its way fun to find those cute little guys rappelling down the chimney or sneaking jelly beans from the cupboard. Its magical to watch your child delight in their antics. And its one of the joys of the holiday time to have traditions that involve families playing together and enjoying simple fun.
So, I propose a revolution. An Elf on the Shelf, I made it Myself movement. Why not claim this tradition (which likely stems from the Scandinavian Nisse, not box stores) for ourselves and take the commercialism out of it? If your kids believe the elves are alive, great! If not, great! But lets craft them ourselves, or for one another, or have the kids do it. Lets kick the box stores out of the picture and create a holiday tradition that doesn’t involve commercialism. If you’re not a crafter I’m sure you can find some on Etsy, or you can give your kids some wooden beads and felt and let them make their own. If reindeer can fly than Christmas magic can bring wooden gnomes to life by jolly. Lets do it.
If you’re inspired, send me a picture of your hand made elf on the shelf. Or put it on Facebook with the title “Elf on the Shelf, I made it Myself” (and a link to this post if you would). Lets bring the magic home.