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Revisiting Santa: Should We Get an Elf on the Shelf?


On December 9, my girls asked me for an Elf on the Shelf. And although I immediately guffawed, rolled my eyes and said “NO WAY,” because it’s 2020 I had second thoughts as soon as the “no” left my mouth and the request had time to settle. If they’d asked in late November or maybe even earlier in December would I have given in, added to cart and clicked “buy now”?

My hesitations about introducing an Elf to our holiday tradition are varied; mainly I don’t want the extra work or to confuse my girls further about what’s real and what’s just something fun to pretend and imagine. I’m not sure about the idea of someone (something?) watching the kids and reporting to Santa on their behavior or if that’s developmentally a good thing. The surveillance aspect is a true objection to the Elf idea. 

HOWEVER, from the outside, Elf on the Shelf looks like an ideal #ExtraMom activity, and I definitely identify as an extra mom in some ways. One good example is that I make my girls’ school lunches every day, including a post-it note sketch (and a joke for my third grader most days!). A friend told me that’s just “making more work for yourself,” and definitely it is unnecessary (just like the Elf!). But just when I think I am extra and/or killing it, I do something like forget to tell my third grader she’s allowed to pack a small stuffed animal on pajama day for the last half-day of school, so my level of extra varies for sure!

In the same Elf conversation, after I’d ranted about why I didn’t want to do such a thing, including talking about all the social media posts I’d seen of people excited they could put the Elf in quarantine for the first two weeks of December, my four year old asked me “Mama, is Santa real?” And I didn’t know how to answer that, even though my husband and I made a conscious decision to not celebrate Santa in the traditional ways.

I was much higher and mightier when my firstborn was younger, navigating Christmas with more intentionality. I told her preschool (and Sunday school) teachers, starting at age two, that we don’t include Santa in our Christmas celebrations. But I haven’t even thought to say such a thing to my younger daughter’s teachers, and we’ve just rolled with it. I want to be honest with my girls, but I also want them to experience wonder and magic at Christmas, and to understand references as they navigate their lives at school and with friends.

Do you include an Elf on the Shelf in your holiday celebrations? Maybe I can find an Elf on clearance for next year and modify or leave out the idea of the Elf spying and reporting back to Santa? Do you have a favorite Elf idea you could share to inspire me possibly, maybe jumping on the bandwagon? (As long as it’s not that picture of bones joking that Santa ate the Elf–that creeps me out!) There are lots and lots of elf shenanigans ideas to choose from on Pinterest, and I do love a good project…

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20 Dec 2020


By Mari Walker

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