My sister and I joke, “Nothing can feel good in 2020.” The trials of this year have taken from us weddings, vacations, and in the worst case, loved ones. Now, 2020 has come for our holiday traditions. As we scrap beloved pastimes in order to keep everyone safe, I have a proposal for parents: Punt the traditions you can’t stand into the trash next to the bridesmaid dress you couldn’t wear. Let’s start with the Elf on the Shelf.
For those unfamiliar, the Elf on the Shelf is a scout, sent by Santa, to report children’s behavior every night to the big man in red. Families give the Elf a spritely name and it returns every year. Its overnight activities have become a thing of elaborate, competitive Pinterest-worthy social media fodder. Before we go any further, I must admit, we don’t own an Elf. I’m a first-time parent, and my toddler is too young to make the request. But I break into a cold sweat anticipating the day that a well-meaning family member gifts us one. Hopefully by my putting this diatribe into the world, they will take the hint.
As a matter of principle, the Elf grates against my parenting instincts. In the Elf’s accompanying story, there’s a heavy emphasis on reporting bad behavior. Santa isn’t transactional in my house. We listen and act with kindness because we are part of a community, not because Santa won’t bring gifts if we have a bad day. Telling my kid that there’s a pixie nanny cam that transmits directly to the North Pole feels too 1984. I prefer to wait a few more years and then explain that it’s actually Google that monitors all of our behavior.
The Elf’s snitching would be an easy enough narrative to remove from the tradition. But what I really can’t stand is that the Elf on the Shelf has come to represent all the fuss, muss, and imposition we have placed on ourselves at the holidays. Xmas and excess have become synonymous. There has become this obsession with filling every moment from Black Friday to Christmas Eve with mandatory holiday magic.
Growing up, we visited Santa one time to take an embarrassing, plaid- and bow-adorned portrait. We went to the Wanamaker light show and watched Christmas movies on VHS when my dad wasn’t watching the news. I have very fond memories. Now, one simply cannot miss a Christmas parade, a light show, or a fifth visit with Santa. It’s easy to see how the Elf has evolved into a mischievous imp that must appear each morning in a blue-ribbon-winning third-grade winter diorama as parents blink over their coffee, fatigued from setting the scene the night before. Or worse, forgetting about the Elf’s overnight activities and waking up early as not to disrupt the expectation they themselves have set. The horror.
I have never heard parent friends say they enjoy the Elf. They quietly curse Crackle, Sprinkle, or Chumpy when they come out of storage and the nuisance of the magic they must manifest nightly for the month of December. They do it for their kids, which is admirable. But this year, when we must forgo our treasured Wanamaker light show and visit with St. Nick to stay well, let go of the traditions you have come to resent. You will create many other memories you all enjoy. You deserve a break in this dumpster fire of a year. Dump that Elf for yourself.
If you have a Sparkle, Jingle, or Snowball, I sincerely hope it brings you joy. If it doesn’t, consider ditching it to preserve your peace of mind. As for me, if you bring an Elf on the Shelf into my home, it’s going into the trash with the rest of 2020.
Courtney is an aspiring author, mother, and ... she’s tired. She lives in Fishtown with her family.