Last year, five days before Christmas, my oldest son Luke came home from school saying he really wanted an "Elf on the Shelf" from Santa. This is a kid with zero interest in toys, who, a month earlier, had to be hogtied to sit down and come up with an actual Christmas list.
And now, with Santa’s workshop winding down, and all of the presents made and wrapped, here he was offering up something that he truly wanted.
Dagnabbit. An Elf on the What?
“He’s one of Santa’s helpers who comes to live with you and tells Santa if you’re naughty or nice,” Luke informed me. “Nicholas in my class has one, and his Elf is going to ask Santa to bring me one too.”
Okaaay….Why was I only now getting the memo?!! Thankfully, Luke’s Aunt Veronica called needing a last minute gift reco, and that is how we came to adopt Elfy, the spry little spy that has singlehandedly transformed my family’s holiday experience.
According to Luke, most Elves on the Shelf show up right after Thanksgiving and hide out somewhere in their assigned family’s house -- maybe on a mantel or bookcase, or anywhere that allows them to observe the children’s behavior. Then, at night, Luke said our elf would fly back to the North Pole to file a report with Santa, maybe get a little cocoa, and return to us in the morning in a new hiding spot.
Though I obviously love the idea of an elf narc living in my home, that last little part of the tradition did cause me some concern. What if Elfy had a long day listening to kids fight and forgot to change spots? What if Luke stayed up late and Elfy couldn’t move without getting busted? What if Elfy drank too much Chardonnay and zonked out while reading a book in bed, too exhausted to fly back to the North Pole?
That’s a lot of pressure for Santa’s overworked, underpaid and unappreciated helper.
I asked Luke if the elves have to go back to the North Pole every night and he said no, sometimes they like a spot so much they stay there. Once, his classmate Jack didn’t see his elf for three days, only to find he’d been cooling his homesick heels hanging out in the freezer.
Our Elf on the Shelf came with a book that explains the whole tradition, including the rule that kids are not allowed to touch him, otherwise he might lose his Christmas magic. And, I have to say, he is quite magical. Since Elfy made his debut in our home, the kids have woken up every day as if it’s Christmas morning, excited to hop out of bed and hunt for their little felt friend. They leave him drawings and candy (bribery?) and notes to take back to Santa requesting elves for their friends.
But last Wednesday, they couldn’t find Elfy, so I suggested they look in high places, like, I don’t know, above their bathroom cabinet? They found him at exactly the moment my cleaning lady (don’t judge. I’m better at writing than mopping) was lifting him up to dust under him.
“Noooooooooo!” Luke screamed, fearing Elfy’s magic was tainted. Then he broke down in hysterical sobs.
I quickly got the book and showed him where it said kids can’t touch their elves, but grown-ups can. This finally calmed him down, but it was a close call. When I recounted this to my husband, Dennis said, “What a disaster! This elf needs to be taken out.” He suggested a pair of concrete elf shoes, but I reminded him that’s not exactly in keeping with the spirit of the season.
Now Dennis has started getting in on the fun. One morning, he told the kids he saw Elfy run through the kitchen and fly into the living room. And sure enough, there was Elfy under the Christmas tree, perched atop our snow village, surrounded by candy wrappers. Another morning after we’d had a late night with friends over, I awoke realizing I forgot to remind Elfy to change places! I ran downstairs before the kids did, looking to nudge Elfy, but he wasn’t there. Turns out, Dennis already reminded him. Whew!
More and more families we know have been adopting their own Elf on the Shelf. Some get them straight from Santa in answer to our Elfy’s requests (sorry neighbors). Others get them from adoption centers like Hazlet Pharmacy on Route 35 or Amanda’s Hallmark in the Holmdel Commons. There are elves with brown or blue eyes, and elves with dark or light skin. There are even girl elves. Popular names include Snowflake, Buddy, and Jingle. Our friends Julia and Emma named theirs Elfy too, but he is a she, thanks to the skirt that they found for her at Barnes and Noble for $6.95. They put it near her one night and she magically slipped into it.
My girlfriend Rory told me her daughter Ally really wanted a Jewish Elf on the Shelf, and instantly a light bulb went off in my head. Genius! “We need to get that to market ASAP,” I said. “We can call him Abel on the Table!” Rory’s family adopted a stuffed bear holding a menorah and another wonderful holiday tradition was born. Don’t try to copy our idea. It’s being patented.
Schools are even cashing in on this magical idea of keeping kids in check. Luke’s math teacher has something called a brownie elf who helps maintain order in her classroom. The kids ply him with treats and yesterday they found him on a pile of books, lying face down in a puddle of Hershey Kiss wrappers. Mrs. Gross told her students, “If he vomits, you guys are cleaning it up.”
See? Magical and fun.
On Christmas Eve, all of Santa’s scouts return to the North Pole ‘til next year, and my kids will have to rely on their own willpower to behave, without my reminders that Elfy is watching. I’ll miss our little narc, but he’s a hard worker and I know he’ll enjoy the break. There are only so many creative hiding spots in a house without resorting to the dog’s mouth or a toilet.
After 30 nights trying to keep the magic fresh, an Elf’s got to recharge her batteries.