My son is the only person in his school who doesn’t have an “Elf on the Shelf.” Well, not really. But if you heard him talk, that’s what you’d believe. By now he’s accepted that it’s just not going to happen in our home, but for the first years of elementary school he felt like everyone else had one.
Wikipedia describes the Elf on the Shelf book and accompanying figurine like this,
The story describes how Santa’s “scout Elves” hide in people’s homes to watch over events. Once everyone goes to bed, the scout elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa the activities, good and bad, that have taken place throughout the day. Before the family wakes up each morning, the scout elf flies back from the North Pole and hides. By hiding in a new spot each morning around the house, the scout elf and the family play an on-going game of hide and seek.
The book tells how the magic might disappear if the scout elf is touched, so the rule for The Elf on the Shelf states, “There’s only one rule that you have to follow, so I will come back and be here tomorrow: Please do not touch me. My magic might go, and Santa won’t hear all I’ve seen or I know.” Although families are told not to touch their scout elf, they can speak to it and tell it all their Christmas wishes so that it can report back to Santa accurately.
The story ends on Christmas Day with the elf leaving to stay with Santa for the rest of the year until the following Christmas season.
This has become an incredibly popular addition to the Christmas season. Hiding the elf can be fun for parents and fun for kids. It can also be another way for parents to leverage the “magic” of Christmas into having well-behaved children for the month of December.
Is the elf evil? no. Will I stop being friends with you if you have an elf? Maybe. Ok, no I won’t. But I don’t recommend it, especially for those who are Christians and celebrate Advent as the season of anticipation of Christ’s return as we remember his birth.
There are two main reasons my family has not and will not purchase (or accept one if given as a gift) an Elf on the Shelf.
The elf is a “scout.” That means the reason why he’s in the house is to spy on your behavior. If our kids’ motivation for obedience is to get better Christmas presents, then behavior is just another expression of selfishness.
Bribery and guilt are terrible ways to shape a heart. Instead of molding their hearts according to God’s Word, guilt and shame and bribery shape our kids’ hearts to love the reward more than the reason behind the command.
Consider how God parents us. Are there rewards for faithfulness? Yes, absolutely. But imagine if something bad happened to us every time we sinned, and if we got some little reward every time we obeyed. Would we love God and would we find joy in doing what is right, or would we simply love the gift and fear the punishment?
In reality, no one is on Santa’s naughty list. The only kids who don’t get presents from Santa are the kids whose parents chose to buy food instead of gifts. The whole thing is a sham. You’re buying your kids presents anyways, so stop lying to them and to yourself that their behavior has anything to do with their gifts they’ll receive.
For this reason, we also don’t talk about Santa’s “nice” and “naughty” list. The whole topic of Christians and Santa could be another post, but it’s been written on so many times I assume it’s not necessary. There is a non-Christian way to embrace the Santa-myth, and there is a way for Christian parents to simply enjoy the myth and fantasy of stories in a way that teaches there is more to this world than what we see and that generosity is a good thing.
The Elf on the Shelf represents the most manipulative and unChristian aspects of the Santa story.
Reducing our Christmas Clutter
Parents, our most important job is to model and teach our children about the incredible love of God through Jesus Christ.
“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Our job is not to help our kids fit in or be “normal.” Being a Christian has always led people to stand out, this is nothing new. In fact, if you blend in without any friction, then you probably need to reevaluate some things.
Just like the overdecorated mantel where the baby in the manger is overshadowed by all the garland and twinklin lights, maybe it’s time to reduce the Christmas clutter. Simplify your season, so that Christ may stand out.
Besides… an elf that hides in your house and watches everything you do is creepy…