September 22, 2018
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Hating the elf on the shelf is becoming a new holiday tradition

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Carol Aebersold, co-author of the popular children's book "Elf on the Shelf," at a book signing at BAM bookstore in Bangor in a 2012 file photo.
By Emily Burnham, BDN Staff
Updated:

Amid the twinkling lights, baking cookies and endless refrains of “Jingle Bells,” there’s a fairly new holiday tradition despised by a growing number of Santa’s stressed-out helpers — a.k.a. parents.

The object of their disdain? A pointy-hatted, rosy-cheeked little toy with a devious smile, the Elf on the Shelf.

“I think it’s creepy. I think it’s disturbing,” said Portland resident Kate Brogan, a mom to two boys, ages 4 and 9. “I think it’s creepy that parents set it up to monitor their kids. I think it’s just another thing mothers are expected to do every day in December. I just can’t do it. I don’t have time for that.”

Elf on the Shelf, which made his debut in 2005, is a $30 doll that has morphed into a nearly inescapable holiday chore in many families. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Elf supposedly monitors children’s behavior from morning ‘til night. While the kids are sleeping, it flies back to the North Pole to tattle to Santa so he can update his Naughty and Nice lists.

Quite a few parents grumble about the notion of telling their kids they’re being spied on by the Elf on the Shelf. But what really curdles their eggnog is the fact that every night after the kids have finally gone to bed, a parent is obligated to secretly move the elf to a clever new location. Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest are all crammed full of photos of the Elf drinking cocoa, doing yoga or being held captive by green army men.

Kelly Blackadar loathes the little guy.

“At first, it’s fun, but after a week, you’re just tired of it. It’s one more thing you have to do for the holidays,” said Blackadar, a New Hampshire resident and mom to Molly, 13, and Matthew, 12. “Not to mention the competitive stuff between parents. You see someone’s amazing thing they did on Facebook, and it’s like a ‘Who’s the best parent?’ competition. Not cool.”

The message that Christmas presents are the reward for good behavior also irks Blackadar.

“You’re giving them the wrong message about Christmas,” she said. “I’m a fun mom, but I’m not going to make it all about the consumerism.”

Brogan agrees: “You teach kids to do good things because it’s the right thing to do. Not because some creepy elf told you to.”

While no one’s being forced to participate in Elf moving, opting out is not that easy. Kids talk to each other about what their elves are up to. If parents refuse to play along, they can expect to be peppered with questions as to why the Elf goes to all the other houses but theirs. Drop the bomb that the Elf isn’t real and risk becoming the ultimate Grinch.

Pauline Chaloff, a Waldo County native living in Massachusetts, says that she and her husband, Richard, had hoped to avoid the Elf, but their 3-year-old son Chase got one as a gift. The Chaloffs decided Chase’s Elf would be stationary.

The girl next door would have none of it.

“I didn’t do anything with it other than keep it as a decoration on the mantle, but apparently that isn’t how the story goes. Our neighbor’s daughter went through the whole story and rules about the elf,” Chaloff said. “She wondered why Chase’s elf didn’t work. I’m thinking of telling her that the elf got caught in a blizzard and is concussed, which is why he doesn’t move.”

Not every mom and dad dislikes the elf. Indian Island resident Maulian Dana’s daughters, 11-year-old Carmella and 8-year-old Layla, kept asking her for an elf, and she begrudgingly agreed. Now, she thinks it’s fun to move him around at night, though she skips over the surveillance aspect of the elf.

And she points out Elf-shaming is merely one of the countless ways parents are pressured to behave in certain ways.

“The second you have a baby, the questions start. ‘Are you gonna breast feed? Co-sleep? Cloth diapers?’ That never stops,” Dana said. “No one is a terrible parent if their heart is in the right place. Yeah, the elf is extra work. I forget to move it sometimes. But parenting is work.”

Meanwhile, the elves are branching out. There are knitted Kindness Elves, which pressure kids to be thoughtful to others. And there’s Mensch on a Bench, a plush Hanukkah toy.

And, offering a reprieve to parents, there’s Reindeer in Here, a cuddly Reindeer that the child — not the parents!—moves to a new spot each day.

Some parents even create their own versions of the Elf. Duncan Dwyer of Searsport and his wife, Julie, have introduced their son to a Wonder Woman doll, which they have dubbed Amazon-a-thon. Posed in fun scenes each morning, Wonder Woman will be staying with the family until Christmas.

“We decided that we weren’t going to do the Elf because we don’t like the idea of getting them ready for the security state. We’re not even sold on Santa,” Dwyer said. “We decided to use Wonder Woman as a teaching tool that reflects our values, like kindness, equality. And really, it’s just supposed to be a cute, nice thing you do with your kids. Isn’t that the whole point?”

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