All over the Internet, Elves are leaving their shelves to engage in nightly mischief

Why can’t our Elf on the Shelf be a role model instead of an accomplice?

Dec 4, 2020 | Commentary, Essays

By Sarah Seitz

It’s that time of the year when I reevaluate my relationship with Ruby, our Elf on the Shelf. Like any relationship, Ruby and I have had our ups and downs.

I was smitten with Ruby, at first. It was fun thinking up funny and adventurous places for the kids to find her. One morning she was swinging from her ankles on the pendant light in our kitchen. Another morning she was discovered in a pile of chocolate chips after sneaking into the baking cupboard overnight.

As we got deeper into December, my interest and energy waned and soon Ruby stopped pulling all-nighters. She wasn’t even moving.

After Christmas, I decided to chalk Ruby up as a parenting fail and move on. We would make different Christmas traditions that were less guilt-inducing and created less resentment towards an inanimate object. I gave Ruby away.

When December rolled around the next year, my kids were confused by Ruby absence. “Was it because we’ve been bad this year?” they asked. “Do you mean the time you tried to sell your brother for five cents? Yes, that probably had something to do with it.” I answered, half-joking.

But I was surprised that they remembered Ruby. I started to doubt how I ended things with her. With the discomfort of the previous Christmas season far enough in the past, I headed back to the store for another Elf on the Shelf.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m a glutton for punishment and a very, very slow learner.

The second go-around with our Elf on the Shelf left me feeling more frustrated than before but my kids were invested and to break up with her again feels complicated. One morning I found a hand-written note and drawing from our eight-year-old daughter to Ruby.

“Dear Ruby, I hope you get presents from Elves. If you don’t, I got you one.”

This tiny gesture from my little girl made me realize that Ruby meant something to her, and also that I should have ended things when I had the chance.

“At the heart of the matter though, is my doubt as to the value of her actual job”

According to the book she comes with, Ruby is supposed to serve as Santa’s eyes and ears. She monitors the children’s naughty and nice behaviour and reports back to Santa. As her name clearly suggests, she is supposed to do this from her superior vantage point of THE SHELF.

Unfortunately for me and other parents, the societal expectation is to hide Ruby in creative and amusing places for the children to find. THE SHELF is no longer good enough.

There are websites, Instagram and Facebook posts dedicated to Elves NOT on the shelf. These Elves are usually involved in some kind of mischief that is often not even kid-appropriate. What started as a simple holiday game of hide-and-seek for children has become an entire industry.

And another thing: Ruby takes 11 months of leave. She can’t live in the Christmas box because she’s magic and supposedly returns to the North Pole. She has to be carefully stored away in a box not labelled ‘Christmas’ until the following Nov. 30 when you begin searching for her whereabouts.

This year, I couldn’t find Ruby. Back to the store. Buy a third one.

But the real difficulty with the Elf on the Shelf is remembering to move it. After a long day with kids and work and the multitude of other jobs that need to get done before your head hits the pillow, the Elf on the Shelf is one more thing to do.

I have tucked myself into bed on more than one occasion only to realize that I didn’t move the effing Elf. There have been even more nights when I just plain forgot. It is in those moments that I truly resent this skinny red waif and plot her banishment from our home.

At the heart of the matter though, is my doubt as to the value of her actual job. If she is supposed to be Santa’s eyes and ears, watching out for bad behaviour, why is she herself getting into mischief? The only message I can imagine my kids get from seeing Ruby in a mess of her own making is that she’s just like them and therefore not someone they need to impress.

In other words, instead of a role model, my kids have an accomplice.

To truly live up to her life’s purpose, Ruby should be setting a good example for our children. I would like my children to find her doing the chores that I so often have to nag them to do.

Imagine if they found Ruby taking it upon herself to empty the dishwasher without being asked, making her own lunch or cleaning up the Lego. That kind of goody-two-shoes behaviour may be just the ticket to turn my kids against Ruby forever.

Possibly the surest sign that a relationship has soured is when you start to resent the mere presence of the other person. As I write this, we are a few weeks away from the holiday season and I can already feel the stirrings of resentment.

I long for the simpler days when the chocolate Advent calendar was magic enough.

Sarah Seitz has two children. She lives in Victoria and also writes a column for Island Parent magazine.


Origin of Elf on a Shelf

The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition is a 2005 children’s picture book, written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, and illustrated by Coë Steinwart. The book tells a Christmas-themed story, written in rhyme, that explains how Santa Claus knows who is naughty and nice. It describes elves visiting children from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, after which they return to the North Pole until the next holiday season.


Mensch on a Bench

A Jewish counterpart to Elf on the Shelf was designed by Benjamin Goober Elikns: “Mensch on a Bench”, a stuffed toy that looks a bit like a rabbi or a Hasidic Jew. Jewish father Neal Hoffman, a former Hasbro Toys toy marketing executive, raised more than $22,000 using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter to fund the creation of the toy in 2011. “Mensch”, in Yiddish, means a person of integrity or honour.

— Wikipedia



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