It’s December, which either means your family’s elf has likely been making itself at home for a few days—or will very soon. And while I understand the many, many, many feelings about the Elf on a Shelf (and they’re all valid), I’m here to tell you that hating the elf is an unnecessary use of our energy.
And parents need all the energy we can muster this month, don’t we?
A tale of two elves
I’ve already seen a number of hot takes from fellow parents bemoaning the elf and families who have one. It seems a lot of people think the elf has to be this magical, whimsical being that requires parents to create and execute any number of elaborate dioramas for the entirety of December.
Additionally, a lot of people also think that the elf must serve as a deputy sheriff in the Christmas Police Department. That children are being monitored in some sort of Orwellian, paranoia-inducing police state where parents use the elf to manipulate their children into behaving a certain way if they don’t want Santa to bring them coal this year.
Most importantly—whatever you decide to do with the elf—it should bring joy.
Please know that despite the popularity of concrete thinking that lacks nuance—basically the thesis of the internet—you are not obligated to subscribe to either of these scenarios if your family has an elf. I promise.
Our Elf on a Shelf story
When my daughter was a year old, we were gifted an Elf on the Shelf. Because she couldn’t walk or talk much yet, I hadn’t even remotely considered whether we were going to be an Elf House or not. After all, not every family has one, the book is somewhat problematic, and buying one arguably just adds more fuel to the capitalism dumpster fire of the holiday season.
But it was a gift. And as my daughter got older and could understand the whole elf shpiel a bit more, I felt the pressure. I succumbed to it and found myself doing something I never thought I’d do: surfing Pinterest boards for creative elf ideas.
My oldest daughter is now six, and she has a two-year-old little sister. Through the years, I’ve learned that neither of the above scenarios has to be the requirements of having an elf. You can make your family’s Elf Experience into whatever you want it to be.
When it was time for Pearl to return to the North Pole, she cried and said, “But Mommy, Pearl is my only friend.”
Most importantly—whatever you decide to do with the elf—it should bring joy. To your kids. To you. To the family dog who desperately wants to get his paws on it.
You’ll hear zero judgments from me if you use the elf to possibly threaten your kids (this time of year it’s like they have a sixth sense for boundary-pushing), or if you enjoy setting up creative scenarios night after night. I love seeing the ways other families enjoy their elves, and I support all of you.
Pearl the elf and the pandemic
Here’s how I came to the realization that you can skip the book’s “lessons,” and skip the craziness when it comes to the elf. (Listen, if all you do is move it occasionally—kids still think it’s magical. They have naturally low expectations.)
When the pandemic had us all feeling particularly lonely, my daughter needed her elf. Pearl (named for her pretty earrings) brought companionship and hope to an extroverted little girl who endured her first year of preschool being canceled and endless days at home during a long winter.
When it was time for Pearl to return to the North Pole, she cried and said, “But Mommy, Pearl is my only friend.” My heart shattered. So a few times throughout the past year, we’d have Pearl send letters and little notes to tell her that she missed her, too. When we moved, we made sure Pearl knew our new address.
It was then that I realized kids don’t need all the bells and whistles when it comes to their elves. They just need to know they’re there.
A version of this post was published December 1, 2021. It has been updated.