Don’t Hate the Elf on the Shelf

Elf on the Shelf

Elf on the Shelf. The pictures of the mischief fill our news feeds. While it’s easy to hate the Elf on the Shelf, the Elf is bringing children and their parents joy.


Quotes from this post were featured in the Star Tribune’s article, Social Media Debate: Is the Elf on the Shelf Cute or Creepy?

You know him.

You hate him.

I admit I was there too.

I struggle to find the time to clean my messy house let alone find time to dump glitter on my counters and THEN clean it up again. Oh and repeat this for 25 days.

For some time I have scoffed at that stuffed figure everyone was putting up on their shelf. You know him, Elf on the Shelf.

The families give their elf a special name, and he or she makes mischief, does funny, wacky and sometimes borderline crazy activities. The social component is that many times parents share these stories and pictures on social media.

I’ve watched from afar as my Facebook and Instagram feeds fill with pictures of moms who have spent considerable time jerry-rigging toys, food and other household items. Last year I read about a woman who had taken all the items from one closet and moved them to another closet; this was the mischief her elf had been up to.

I can’t open some of my closets. No, seriously.

The idea that someone moved everything from one closet to another in the middle of the night exhausts me. So I’ve sat back and silently shook my head when I see these Elf pictures. An elf fishing, a jug of milk the mom has colored a funny color, glitter-oh the glitter.

My mom, a skeptic, said it was “a fallacy.” Her thought was that it just sets kids up to believe in something that they will one day find out isn’t true.

I thought about that for a minute. Should we as parents restrain ourselves from setting up more imaginary characters and stories only to prevent our children from the inevitable discovery of the truth?

For me, I don’t think so.

The other day I was talking to a friend, her family had just experienced the loss of a loved one. We talked about the loss, the shift to the holidays and then he came up-the Elf on the Shelf. A friend of years, a very busy mom, and I knew we’d share the same opinion about that elf. We’d laugh about how silly it was.

But then we didn’t.

She told me she bought an Elf on the Shelf. She dumped glitter on the counter. Her husband questioned her sanity. But then it happened. The piece I’ve missed through all this observation of others. She told me about her kids’ faces, their reaction and how it made her feel.

It brought her kids joy.

It brought her joy.


The joy that all of us as parents strive to give and receive from our children.

The parents that set that Elf up night after night aren’t out of their minds, they don’t have too much time on their hands and they certainly don’t want you to feel bad about the way you parent or how you celebrate Christmas. They are just looking for a way to find joy with their kids.

Think about that for a minute.

As parents, we have our own way of finding joy with our children.

Alice-Seuffert Cooking with Kids

Sometimes it’s cooking.

Sometimes it’s a dance party in the living room.

And sometimes it’s pouring glitter on the counter.

10 thoughts on “Don’t Hate the Elf on the Shelf

    • Hi Katie! Yes, as a parent you practice holiday traditions and never know when, unexpectedly, something creeps into your world with a new tradition and can also bring joy!

  1. We don’t have an elf at our house either. It’s not because I hate the concept. It’s that we have so many other holiday traditions (our advent calendar doesn’t have candy inside each door it has a slip of paper with a holiday activity to do and a piece of the nativity scene) I don’t have time to add on one more!! A part of me has mama-guilt about depriving my child of this popular tradition, but I know deep down that it won’t matter later. My kids will have a different memory of our time leading up to the holidays than some of their friends and cousins and that is OKAY. (Right??;)

    • That’s exactly what this post is about. There’s no wrong or right way to find joy with your family during the holidays, do what you have time for and what makes you happy. Happy holidays to your family!

  2. I loved your blog about Elf on a Shelf. You hit the nail right on the head. It is all about finding Joy and finding what works for your family during special times, like the holiday season.

    I have to admit – we think exactly the same about old Elf. I didn’t understand him. It made no sense to me why anyone would want to make a mess only to have to clean it up. After all, I spend all day trying to prevent messes! For me, the Elf was kind of against everything I believe in the Holiday season. Russ and I are working so hard to teach our children what Christmas means (to our family, it’s different for everyone and that’s ok!). Our focus is on peace, love, giving, joy, family and the birth of Christ. In recent years, the commercialization of the Holiday has really taken some of the joy out of it for me and the obsession with ‘stuff’ has become a battle. I found my little man fixated on gifts and I wanted to be sure that the focus of the season was where it should be — peace, love, joy, giving –family! I wanted the memories to be around times with family and friends, good food, Christmas cookies, traditions and those memories they would cherish in times to come. Elf certainly didn’t fit into that. In fact he was the antithesis of that…as far as I was concerned. Then it happened….

    You see Thanksgiving was a really tough on for us. We lost my husband’s grandmother, my children’s Gigi, right before Thanksgiving. It was a sudden, unexpected illness. She spent one really long week in the hospital; most of that week was attached to life support. Thankfully, we were able to be with her that entire week. But the week was filled with things I was not prepared for. Unexplained illness, the ICU, life, death, funerals, wakes, viewings, grief. These were all things that we struggle with as adults and here I was maneuvering through, during the middle of what was both GiGi and our favorite holiday, with a 6 and a 2 year old. I was unprepared. How do you prepare your 6 year old for the ICU? Do you encourage him to go in and say goodbye? Do you discourage so his last memory is a happy one? Do you let him decide? Then there are viewings and funerals. Managing your own grief. Emotions. Somehow, we made decisions that felt best for our family. I was managing with game time decisions (which doesn’t bode well with an A type, plan everything and think through the consequences 65 ways to Sunday type). And somehow it felt like we did ok. Then Bam! There he was, coming at me like a semi-truck! That damn Elf on a Shelf.

    The conversation started off kind of simple. While I was preparing dinner, my inquisitive 6 year old looked across the kitchen counter at me and asked, “Mommy, why don’t we have an elf.” Thankfully, my back was turned as I rolled my eyes. Cause he is creepy? Cause he cost $29! Cause….who has time for that?!?! I reached down deep and I tried to explain that we didn’t need an Elf and reminded him of all the things Christmas was about. He then informed me that all of his friends had an Elf. Yes – ALL of his friends. He named them off. Every one. And he knew all of the crazy things Elves were doing in their homes. Heck, Johnny even had 4 elves, one for each sibling – including the 3 month old. I realized that somehow we had turned a corner and my son, in fact, knew intimate details of all his friend’s lives. They talk. They share. They are little you and me! I tried my old line about how different families had different traditions for Christmas and the Corvin family focused on family and friends, giving and baby Jesus. He cut me off. “So the elf isn’t real?” Seriously?!?! I had survived ICUs and funerals, discussions of heaven and faith and now this damn elf was putting me on the spot?!? Luckily, I’d been down this road with a superhero or two. I talked about how if you believe in your heart than all good things are real. Jacob wasn’t buying it. This led to a series of questions about Santa and presents and why some kids would have elves and not others. “Mommy, So the elf’s not real?” He wouldn’t let it go. I paused…..No, he’s not real. In fact, he is creepy, he represents everything I hate about commercialized Christmas but…. Other kid’s magic hung in the balance. If I told him the Elf wasn’t real, would he tell his friends? What do I do?!? That’s when the Elf struck with a low blow. Jacob looked up at me, grey green eyes questioning, and said, “If some kids need an elf for Santa and others don’t, Santa’s not real is he.” That Damn Elf!! I could see his little brain working. And my little mathematician was moving beyond simple 2+2. I was not prepared for this!!

    I walked across the kitchen and swept him up into my arms. And I stared at him. Trying to buy time, trying to figure out what to do, trying to figure out what to say. In that moment, a million thoughts went through my head. Where had my baby gone? How did he get so big? How did this all happen so fast? It was only yesterday that I was picking out yellow paint and wondering who he would be. Now he was this amazing little creature that I love more than life. But soon I won’t be able to swing him around and scoop him up. Soon, some of the magic and the greatness of his world will fade. I didn’t want that to happen ever, certainly not today. And in that moment, I made a game time decision. I lied. “Of course Santa is real. His magic lives in your heart. You just have to believe.” Well, I sort of lied. I do believe in the magic of the season. And I do believe Santa exists – in each of us. We spread the magic and the love. And we have to believe.

    o that night, after the kids went to bed, I proclaimed to my husband we were buying an Elf. Knowing how I felt about the Elf, sharing the same sentiments (as well as being a little bitter that he didn’t come up with the idea himself), he was sure I lost my mind. Thankfully we have supercenters open 24 hours and I knew right where to find that creepy little overpriced Elf. I drove to the store (scratch that, “Adoption Center”), debating. What was I doing? How could I keep the magic alive but stay true to our values around Christmas. Like a fool, I tore into the box (we all knew I was buying that Elf) and I stood there in the store reading the story behind him. That’s when it hit me. The book doesn’t say a word about making messes. It doesn’t say a word about mischievous deeds, breaking glass, reorganizing closets, coloring on family photos, or turning furniture up-side-down. The book was not Pinterest worthy. The story is actually quite simple and sweet. I drove home, renewed. And I went to work, making a tradition that worked for our family.

    I downloaded some North Pole letterhead and I wrote a letter from Santa. I’m not good with scrapbooking, I am a Pinterest flunky, but I am a writer. I have a book for each of my children where I write them letters. The letters chronicle their lives and special moments. This letter from Santa would fit right in…it was like part of “my” tradition, just a different form. Then, Santa laid out some rules on the holiday and talked about the true meaning of Christmas. He set the tone for our holiday and focused it for us on loving each other, spreading joy, giving to others and celebrating Jesus. With authentic North Pole letters, signed by Santa himself, I sprinkled glitter on the counter (the only messes that will be happening at Case de Corvin – some red Santa Dust) and laid the letter on top of it. Then, I hid that creepy little Elf for the kids to find. My husband was sure I had lost my mind….and I probably believed him. Until the next morning. That’s when I saw it. It was pure M.A.G.I.C. — Pure Joy! The kids were filled with excitement reading Santa’s letter and searching for the Elf. And, they accepted his challenge – to spread the magic of Christmas this holiday.

    And I have to say — Melvin Stamkos Corvin (yes our Elf is named after a hockey player) has helped to restore some of the joy that our family was missing. He has helped us refocus on the holiday season. Melvin does not make messes. He hides politely around the house. He encourages good deeds, love, and joy. He also loves a good challenge. He leaves us challenges to help each other, to spread love, to do special things together. The notes back and forth with Melvin will be tucked into Jacob and Kendyl’s letter books and I hope they will be a cherished keepsake for them someday. And today, he provides simple adventure and excitement for them. And, in all honesty, a little fun for my husband and I.

    This week, Melvin has challenged us to “give” every day. We are all supposed to record what we did and how it made us feel. I did give into the peer pressure….but our elf is focused on exactly what works for our family. [Just like a little mischief works for others]. And, like part of our family, he embodies our core values. All of the challenges and lessons are things we would have done anyway: choosing an Angel from the tree at church, spending an afternoon at the soup kitchen, helping our friends and neighbors, going to a Christmas parade, Christmas service, Adopting a Senior, doing good deeds. But, I have to admit, Melvin has added another level of magic and excitement to these events. And my hope is that, someday, my children will look back on their letters to and from Melvin and Santa and smile. By then, they will know that Russ and I wrote the letters and orchestrated the challenges. But I hope they will see the love and the magic of the season. And I hope these ‘traditions’ will help to shape who they are. Who knows, maybe that creepy old, overpriced elf will serve as a tangible lesson about the true meaning of Christmas for my family. He sure has reminded me that it’s ok to have your core values and beliefs mixed with a little magic and a whole lot of fun.

    And I have to say — Melvin Stamkos Corvin – thank you for bringing a little of the Christmas magic to me!

    • This was so touching, Jaime. I’m so thankful you came here and shared your beautiful words about how your elf has brought joy-and some Christmas magic back into your house. As moms we are stretched in a million different directions and we just want to do our best. I picture you in your kitchen with your son, trying to keep up with his friend’s tales of Elf, trying to get through a family death, trying to explain all that is the holiday season, realizing your baby boy has grown so big and then there you are writing a letter to santa, sprinkling sanda dust on the counter. We need to embrace and love our own joy and I love the beautiful joy you have shared. So beautiful.

  3. This is so great, Alice. I avoided the elf for as long as I could. Last year, we were gifted him. Leonardo is now part of our Christmas family. It’s only the 9th, and I’ve already missed 3 nights but I’ve never been good at consistency and longevity. When we DO take the time to move him, it’s awesome! Tonight he is hanging from a shoelace “web” on our kitchen ceiling fan and is wearing an itty bitty Spider-Man mask made from construction paper. Tonight, I went all out. Most nights, he sits on a wine bottle or dumps out some Cheerios. Know what’s cool though? Every. Single. Thing. He. Does….is like magic to my 5-year old. So instead of hating the elf on the shelf (which I totally get…no, really I do), I completely love it. Not the elf himself (I’m sooo happy when he “flies home” on the 26th), but the smiles he brings. You capture it amazingly well here. Such a fun post to read! (Your honesty makes me feel so normal…so, thanks for that!) 🙂

    • I love picturing the big smiles and joy that is filled in your house after Leonardo’s adventures. As moms, we’ll do anything for those heart-grabbing smiles, even if it means glitter, spilled Cheerios and cutting the tiniest spider man mask out of construction paper. I’m always here with the honest real life, come hang out and feel normal anytime. 😉

  4. I’m so glad my kids are older so I don’t even have to think about the dilemma. But we do have our own little traditions that others might not do and think slightly odd. That’s okay…every family bonds and connects in their own way. Elf in the shelf might just be one of those ways. A-okay by me!

    • That’s exactly right we all have our own traditions and should enjoy doing those that bring us the most joy-maybe it’s Elf on the Shelf, but maybe it’s not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *