Why there’s no Elf on our Shelf

This morning I mentioned to my husband that I feel as though we are the only parents who celebrate Christmas without Elf on the Shelf.

“What’s elf on the shelf?” he replied, and for a moment I wished I lived in his world.

Elf on the Shelf has been around about a decade. He’s sold at about every big-box store. For $30 you get an impish spy who reports back to Santa whether your children are naughty or nice.


Each night, the elf moves to a different spot in the house. He doesn’t have to be on a shelf. There are pages and Pinterest boards dedicated to elf shenanigans — “easy” scenes parents can stage that children will be delighted to find in the morning. And, like with all hot trends, contrarians have emerged, penning essays such as “Truth, Lies and Elf on the Shelf,”  “How the Elf on the Shelf Ruined Our Christmas,”  and “Why We Finally Gave Up on Elf on the Shelf.”

Then there are people — or am I the only one? — who never started. I’m sure our daughters, ages 9 and 6, would jump out of bed every morning and race around the house to find the elf and laugh about his silly exploits. (To the parents who love the Elf – that’s great. I’m sure you’re creating wonderful memories for your children.)

We do have a daily ritual. I have the felt advent calendar my grandmother made, and the girls take turns pulling out a sequined ornament from a pocket and putting it on the sequin-bordered tree.


They argue over who gets the odd days and who gets the even, just as my older brother and I used to do before my mom starting pinning a little note to the calendar to keep track of who gets what. (Mental note: I need to do that when I put the calendar away after the holidays.) I remember how my brother used to tick me off by moving the star so it would come out early, and I was adamant that it had to be in the 24th pocket.

And yes, I now realize that if that’s one of the biggest things my brother and I fought about, I had it easy.

My girls are always eager to see what ornament comes out each day. While it’s not as big of a thrill as the Elf, it’s enough. They know “GG,” as they called their great-grandmother, who died last year, made it. Plus, I don’t have to pretend that they are being spied on. Parents tell children enough lies to make childhood magical. And they’ll find out soon enough about the NSA.

Of the anti-Elf essays I’ve read from other parents, this one made the biggest impression: “I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical” by  Bunmi Laditan, author of “The Honest Toddler: A Child’s Guide to Parenting.”

Before you call me a grinch, read these excerpts:

“Parents do not make childhood magical. Abuse and gross neglect can mar it, of course, but for the average child, the magic is something inherent to the age. Seeing the world through innocent eyes is magical. Experiencing winter and playing in the snow as a 5-year-old is magical. Getting lost in your toys on the floor of your family room is magical. Collecting rocks and keeping them in your pockets is magical. Walking with a branch is magical.”

“Planning elaborate events, daily crafts, and expensive vacations isn’t harmful for children. But if the desire to do so comes from a place of pressure or even a belief that the aforementioned are a necessary part of one’s youth, it’s time to reevaluate.”




Stephanie Rice

Stephanie Rice

I cover Vancouver city government. Reach me at stephanie.rice@columbian.com or 360-735-4508.

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