My daughter posts on Facebook almost daily the adventures of “Chippy”, my grandbabies’ little Elf who has shown up for the past several years at their home on December 1st. He has numerous adventures in their home and then he mysteriously disappears around the same time the Christmas ornaments are put away. For those of you who do not know this wildly popular Christmas phenomenon, it is based on a best-selling book and the Elves that accompany the book are considered “Scouts” of Santa who report back to him so he can manage his naughty and nice lists. And that’s where the controversy starts…
Just like the Jolly Old Elf (Santa), the little Elf on the Shelf watches whether a child has been good or bad, supposedly motivating children to behave for at least twenty-five days in December so they will get their promised gifts. Every parent has attempted this ploy in some form for generations warning their children that if they misbehave there is someone (something) who is watching them and will punish them or reward them based on their behavior. Great killjoys like the Boogie Man is meant to scare kids into submission while The Easter Bunny will refuse to hop over at Easter and Santa will refuse to visit if Elf brings him a bad report about a poorly behaved boy or girl. Psychologists despise this kind of behavior modification for child rearing citing the fact that believing an imaginary persona has any authority in the world is a lie. (Psychology Today) Others do not like the idea of being “spied on”, saying “…the Elf conditions kids to accept “increasingly intrusive (albeit whimsically packaged) modes of surveillance.”
My daughter, a great teacher, uses the little toy as another method to teach educational concepts and add a little seasonal fun to her homeschooling environment. Chippy loves to read so he is often found with a good book and then encourages my grandbabies to sit with him while my daughter reads to them. He also likes to bake and sets out all the necessary ingredients and watches intently while they decorate gingerbread men cookies. The little Elf doesn’t spy on my grandbabies, he interacts with them and surprises them with daily activities that causes them to think and enjoy the world around them.
I grew up with “elves” in my home at Christmas too. Both my parents were Danish and so Julenisse were a fun part of our Christmas traditions. “One of the main Christmas characters in Denmark is a mischievous elf named Nisse. Christmas is a time when Nisse can have his fun. Nisse is said to live in the lofts of old farmhouses and he enjoys to play jokes. Nisse wears gray, woolen clothes, a red bonnet, red stockings, and white clogs. Families will leave him a bowl of rice pudding or porridge on Christmas Eve to keep him from playing too many jokes on the family. Usually Nisse is a kind and helpful elf who enjoys to help on the farm and he enjoys being good to the children. Also in Denmark the Christmas elves called Julenisse are appeased with rice pudding as well as dishes of seeds that are placed outdoors for wild birds.” (Denmark Christmas Traditions)
On Christmas Eve, for dessert my mother always made rice pudding that had a whole almond inside. Whoever found this almond would receive a prize. I continue this tradition in our home and although my kids are never keen on eating rice pudding, they still manage to eat a bowl of it in quest of that elusive almond.
I don’t have a problem with elves. I don’t have a problem with Santa…or the Easter Bunny…or the Tooth Fairy either. I enjoy the fun these imaginary figures bring into the lives of our children. As a teacher, I see educational value in using toys that foster creativity. Elf On the Shelf does that. However, both my daughter and I are purposeful in explaining the difference between what is real and what is unreal to our children. My grandbabies know that although Santa and the Elves are fun, they are not real. Santa does not know when you are sleeping or awake, or whether or not you’ve been good or bad. My children are not accountable to Santa, or to a toy Elf, or a Bunny at Easter. They don’t believe in these personas for salvation from their misdeeds, they know only Jesus can do that because they know that He is real and He does watch over His children (Psalm 121:5). They know that His Word is alive and active in their lives. (Hebrews 4:12) They are accountable to God, as am I.
So, the true lesson to teach children at Christmas and all through the year is: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:16-21)