I want to address this Elf on the Shelf business.
That little Kris Kringle/George/Jack/Jingle or whatever you’ve called him in your household, is all over my Facebook page. I’ll admit he is a cute elf, and you’re all so adorable placing him in those funny little hiding places. But I have to tell you that, as an outsider looking in, all this Elf on the Shelf stuff a little bit weird. Especially when the little elf is posed with Barbie… or sitting amongst marshmallows.
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Every day—for 25 days!—you have to frantically search online for some overachiever’s blog post on the best Elf on the Shelf poses. Then you have to remember to move the elf every night after the kids go to bed. I don’t get it.
I fully admit to writing all this with a tinge of jealousy. To us Hanukkah-celebrators, Christmas sounds totally awesome. You get to make myth and magic an everyday activity. You have Advent calendars with 24 pieces of chocolate and beautiful trees with blinking lights. There is a jolly guy clothed all in red who hands out presents to kids, has a multitude of TV specials, and sits around at the mall. You have an entire continent’s worth of people stopping everything they’re doing for one special day.
And now you have an elf. On a shelf.
This elf isn’t just fun and mischievous—he acts as a little spy for Santa Claus, so kids are fully aware that any wrongdoings are reported directly to the jolly old fat man himself. As a parenting method, I’m not a big fan of the “threat.” But as a merrymaking tool? Sure, whatever floats your boat.
What do we Jews have? We have a minor holiday that’s become an overblown, gift-giving blur—all so we can compete with Christmas. As my friend recently pointed out, we have latkes and eight candles, while the rest of you have cookies, alcohol, trees and sleigh-bells. We can’t even agree on the spelling of our own holiday—is it Chanukah, Hanukkah or Hanukah?
Oh sure, now we have our own Elf on the Shelf in the form of Mensch on a Bench. However, I think an old Jew in a bathtub full of marshmallows would be kind of icky—nevermind any potential loving scenes shared with Strawberry Shortcake or Barbie. Now that would just be inappropriate.
You see, all this magic-making fuelled by Pinterest fantasies is wearing me down. I hear people complaining that their 12-year-old doesn’t believe in Santa anymore. I read about distraught parents approaching their kids’ teachers because another child told their special snowflake that Santa isn’t real.
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Let me be clear: Kids will believe in Santa for as long as they want. Even my kids, who have no reason to believe in Santa, thought he was real for a little while. But inevitably, in the spirit of Occam’s razor, they realized that Santa wasn’t avoiding them because they were bad, or because they were Jewish—it was because the jolly old guy wasn’t real. But don’t worry, we’ve had many conversations where I remind them not to tell their friends the truth about Santa. I can see how much it hurts the rest of you when your kids stop believing.
But there is something about this insistence on the idea that kids need the magic of Christmas or their childhoods will be full of empty memories that hurts a little. My kids don’t have that, and they’re fine. At one point in their lives they believed their stuffies protected them while they slept, they thought the events in Star Wars actually happened and they believed The Wiggles really are a multi-talented family. They, too, have lived in the world of fantasy, and they transitioned through the sad moments when they don’t get their own personal Velveteen Rabbit.
They love the holidays too, just as your kids do. They may not believe in the miracle of Hanukkah, but they do believe in the power of family and shared memories. They enjoy Christmas TV specials and Christmas cookies. They aren’t offended if someone starts to wish them Merry Christmas, but they don’t understand why sometimes people stutter and leave the phrase dangling incomplete in the air because they aren’t quite sure if we will be offended.
I understand the desire to make the holiday season a buffer against the onslaught of cynicism we see in the news each day. I also want my kids to be innocent and have a childlike belief in magic. And I guess the Elf on the Shelf helps with that. But I’m telling you, it’s still a little creepy.