Elves on the Shelves

Elf on ShelfDear Parishioners,

Warning: this column may contain material unsuitable for young children…… ……because I want to write about something that bugs me. Elves. Specifically, elves on shelves. For those unfamiliar, the “elf-on-the-shelf” became an out-of-the-box Christmas “tradition” since its debut in 2006. The actual elves look very much like the elf figures which were common in the Sixties, who were posed on ladders and sitting cross-legged on the window sill. Same face, bigger body, but the new version doesn’t stay put. According to the book that accompanies each elf, the elf sits around all day watching. Then, after everyone has gone to sleep, he or she flies back to the North Pole and files a report with Santa on who has been naughty and who has been nice. The elf returns to the house by dawn and resumes surveillance from a new spot. Children are supposedly tickled pink to find the elf in a different room everyday.

Is it only me or does anyone else think this is a little creepy? Plus, being watched all day and then being reported to the authorities….doesn’t this country have laws against that? Plus, no one likes a tattler. Plus, is it really so wise to leave the call of “naughty behavior” or “nice behavior” to an inanimate object? Isn’t that what Mom and Dad are supposed to do?

I can sense some eyes rolling right now. “He just doesn’t get it,” you’re thinking, “It does no harm. It’s just a fun Christmas thing to do…”

Please don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the “magic” of Christmas. Children are especially well equipped to hold more than one reality in their minds at once. They easily understand that Christmas can be about Jesus being born and, at the same time, it’s about Santa Claus and flying reindeer. I just don’t like what the Shelf Elf might be subtly teaching about God’s grace. Grace is freely given by God. It is unearned and unmerited, not racked up by our “nice” behavior like travel points on a credit card. God gives to us simply because God loves us. And Christmas may be the best time of the year to experience that and mirror it.

One mother I was talking to had a tremendously profound insight about all this. She said that all year long, more often than not, we have to tell our children “no”. It’s part of healthy development and forming character. Christmas, in her mind, is a “yes” time. Time to echo the nervous “yes” of Mary to an angel; of the extravagant “yes” that God said to taking human flesh; of the fearless “yes” even to the experience of death. It’s a “yes” that’s rooted in love and not at all dependent on whether we are naughty or nice. Now, this Mom is not voting for a no-holds-barred, “cater-to-a-child’s-every-whim” kind of Christmas. Rather, she means that it’s a great time to create a few weeks of celebrating and underlining the solid things upon which the good will of the season is built: the loving relationships of family and friends, thoughtfulness, charity, spending time together, keeping traditions and telling the stories of family and Christmas.

Granted, it’s a lot harder to put that in a box and market it, but isn’t that more reflective of what the good things of this season are really about? I think so…..but, hey, what do I know? I’m just a guy living in an Elf-free zone…….

Father John