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We’re 3 years in with Elf on the Shelf – a Christmas tradition that poses a great divide between parents on whether it adds to the magic of the holiday season or causes more stress and chaos. I weighed up many of the pros and cons before deciding to take the plunge into 18 years of elf antics and puppeteering, as it’s true what you hear, once you commit, you cannot undo it!
Never did I think only a few years in we’d be faced with a dilemma that had us questioning the whole idea behind these magical mess makers that were supposed to add an extra element of fun and excitement on the countdown to Christmas. It could of very well ended it tears and two little girls scarred for life over a tradition with one very unrealistic rule…
Before I dish out the harsh truth of a major oversight of the Elf on the Shelf creators, in case you’re not familiar with the tradition, here’s some background…
What is Elf on the Shelf?
Elf on the Shelf is a tradition brought over from America based on a children’s book published in 2005. The popular picture book describes magical toy elves that visit children from 1st – 24th December, coming to life at night and getting up to mischief to be discovered by the child(ren) come morning. A magical miniature door (aka gateway to the North Pole) appears somewhere in the family home on the 1st day of advent, giving the elf a portal between the two worlds from North Pole and their assigned family. They make frequent reports back to jolly ole’ Saint Nick on whether the child(ren) have been naughty or nice, using this ‘threat’ as an incentive to make sure their behaviour stays on track all the way up to Christmas Day.
Like Santa Claus, the whole story behind the elves, from what they get up to in the middle of the night, to abiding by ‘official’ rules from the original storybook, is all kept alive year-after-year by the parents and carers. Each night parents create the magic by setting the scene and shenanigans! Everything from silly poses, jokes, making messes, bringing treats or activities for good behaviour or going on strike when rules are broken.
The ‘No Touch’ Rule
This is where my beef lies with the Elf on the Shelf tradition, the ‘no-touch’ rule! This is the biggest and what many hardcore fans deem the most VITAL rule – children CANNOT touch them. Not at all, for any reason. A tradition aimed at children from 0 to … however old they are when they stop believing and they’re expected to control themselves when they see their beloved elf after discovering them doing something fun, cheeky or a bit naughty and not lay a single finger on them…
I’ve heard of parents who have denied their toddler the notion to hug their own elf goodnight. It is a soft toy elf that they believe is magical, of course, children 0 – 5 are going to find not touching them i-m-p-o-s-s-i-b-l-e! Not to mention children who have a learning disability… However, as parents, elf puppeteers in training shall we say, we learn that ‘the magic’ can only work properly if we enforce such rules. If they touch them, the storybook says it takes away their magic, the elf then must retreat back through the elf door to the North Pole for a night or several (depending on how strict the parent is) and the child is left upset for being punished for LOVING a soft toy they truly believe is their magical elf. It is heartbreaking and sadly I can vouch for that.
My Baby Sister Ruined Christmas!
My girls are 4 and 7 this year, prior years all elf antics we created were either on the ceiling or on a high up shelf/wall, etc out the way of excited little hands. However, after 2 years on the trot of elf-ing around up high, you start to run out of ideas, especially as you’ve got to come up with a different cool, fun and exciting scene 24 days straight! So my youngest Ava being 4, I thought that we were safe now to set the scene anywhere and I’d just reinforce the no-touch rule, hoping taking Joy (our girl elf) away for a night would be enough for the message to sink in. I was very much mistaken.
Every single morning for the first week and a half of December, Ava, my whirlwind child who never stays still, climbs the unclimbable and is VERY high spirited, touched the elf. Her big sister Abbie was disappointed but helped me try to explain the rule again to her baby sister, understanding she was still little. Helped sprinkle cinnamon (Elf Resus 101) Joy went away for a night. To ky be touched again, dragged by the hat around the house, end up in the dolly pram and we’d spend hours trying to find the elf after Ava wanted to play hide and seek with her. I admit I was annoyed at first because she wasn’t listening. All I could think was that they’d realise the elf was just a soft toy by feeling them. That’s what’s drilled into us from our dear friend Google. I was terrified Ava’s disobedience would kill the story for both of them.
A week and a half later, I was pulling my hair out with frustration. Nothing I said was getting through to Ava. I was explaining what happens to Joy when she’s touched for the umpteenth time while tucking the girls in bed one night when my eldest suddenly burst into tears. Taken off guard, I turned to her confused and asked what was wrong while pulling her in for a hug. I had been so focused on rectifying her baby sister’s ‘bad behaviour’ that I didn’t recognise the impact this was having on Abbie. Wiping fresh tears from her face she sobbed with a heartbroken wail that cut right through me;
“Ava’s ruined Christmas because she won’t stop touching the elf! Joy won’t come back and it’s all HER fault. I love Joy!”
A lump caught in my throat as her words replayed in my mind. She now blamed her baby sister for taking a fun tradition away because she was being little and couldn’t control her impulses. In Abbie’s mind, Christmas was ruined through her sisters actions when in fact the issue lies with an ill-thought-out rule for a children’s tradition. The tension over the no-touching had taken away our Christmas spirit and it was then I realised doing Elf on the Shelf was causing more stress and upset, than it had been magical for them. That realisation was all I needed to see the whole situation for what it was – utter craziness!
Once they were resettled after Mummy promised to have a word with Joy to fix this whole fictional drama, I shut their door and drove off to find my laptop to seek advice of other families on the Elf on the Shelf groups on Facebook. Finding no posts from others with similar tradition breakdowns, I braved publishing a post with what I believed the most taboo topic of this Elf-ing malarkey, “Are there any families that allow their children to hug, touch and physically interact with their elves?”
To my shock and upmost relief, within half an hour the responses came flooding in within the security of the closed group. All echoing the same opinion.
Young children under 5 cannot be expected to control their impulses and it isn’t fair to ask them to exercise self control on a level they mentally aren’t mature enough for yet. Some went as far as calling other parents cruel and callous for reinforcing this stupid rule and punishing a toddler for touching something they love, all for the sake of playing the game properly.
Sometimes breaking the rules actually brings more fond childhood memories and the later is the entire principle of doing Elf on the Shelf. Let your child play, hug, dance and love on their elf, all it’ll do is add to the magic. Rules are made to be broken and these little guys break plenty of house rules as it is!
Do you partake in the Elf on the Shelf tradition? If so, do you play the by the rules?