Of the many things I’m thankful for, I am thankful Elf on a Shelf did not exist when I was a kid. If you haven’t heard, Elf is the Teddy Ruxpin/Cabbage Patch/Elmo of 2012 with a dash of Sammy “The Bull” Gravano mixed in.
Yeah, as John Gotti would say, Elf is a snitch. But he’s been marketed well.
Based on a bestselling book by the same name, the Elf on a Shelf figure/doll “adopts” a family, observes its behavior, then reports back to Santa at the North Pole every night. Santa used to do this type of surveillance himself — “He knows when you’ve been sleeping, he knows when you’re awake” — but even he is outsourcing these days.
Elf comes with rules. If you touch him, he loses his magic and can’t rat you out — I mean report back — to Santa each night. Some see this as a negative, and take pains not to touch the little fellow with their bare hands. All the more difficult to stage mischief, my dear.
Yes, Elf gets into trouble. This is the way parents get to act like kids without accepting the consequences. The point of Elf is to move him about while the kids are sleeping, show evidence of his movement and convince the kids he is “real.”
Some parents go for nice; others tread the dark side. Mom and dad can toilet paper the living room, eat the last of the Christmas cookies or prank-call Grandma, then point the finger at Elf. When I was a child, it was not cool to blame my bad behavior on my imaginary friend Charlotte. Elf, on the other hand, is like a get-out-of-jail-free card for adults.
Some parents turn to Pinterest to copy Elf hijinks. Most kids think this is a hoot. Others are creeped out by the whole thing.
I would be one of them.
Elf has wide, unmoving eyes often found on dolls in “Twilight Zone” episodes. He has the same frightful insouciance of a ventriloquist’s dummy who has hijacked his handler. He is as creepy as the postal service commercial where the toy moves of its own volition. (My parents never should have let me watch “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” in second grade.)
Imagine being 3 years old, receiving this catatonic-looking doll, then having your parents tell you it acted out during the night and keeps tabs on everything you do?
Santa was a benign overseer, easily bribed with a plate of cookies or hastily planned last-minute good deeds. Elf is an unknown equation.
What exactly is naughty and nice in Elf’s world? Especially when he spends his nights getting into stuff that would eliminate you from Santa’s gift list? There’s some moral ambiguity going on here difficult for the pre-school mind to unravel.
What’s it all about, Elfie?
You’ll have to ask the parents. They’re having a blast. They get to play with toys again, stay up late, and plot and scheme in their pajamas. They never got over Neverland.
Now they’ve got Elf.
Jan Hearne is the Press Tempo Editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.