08 November 2010

Thick and Rich as Melted Chocolate Bars

I was walking through Mistletoe Marketplace with one of my favorite people the other day.

I spotted yet another blasted Elf of the Shelf. You may read about it here. There are hundreds of thousands? Millions? of these in American homes. It has won Toy awards. It has been featured on Regis & Kelly, for goodness sakes. And in Southern Living.

The world is coming to an end.

I leaned over to my friend and said, "Grr.... the Elf on the Shelf."

She nodded knowingly.

And about half an hour later, still in the midst of thousands of misanthropic holiday shoppers, she leaned over to me, and said, "Hey - wonder what we could actually do to crusade against the heretical little b**tard?"

Actually, she clearly did not call him such vile things. And she probably never would. But if she was prone to such ugly words, she'd use them on this guy.

And so would I. And I am almost positive that my curmudgeon, scrooge-esque attitude will frustrate some. Anger some. Make many, many folks shake their heads.

But, I plunge ahead anyway. Mainly so that when my children read this blog - you know - when I let them - you know - when they're of legal drinking age - they will know why they should revolt against this seemingly sweet, so completely American holiday tradition.

Because that is what the blasted thing threatens to be come - a godforsaken tradition.

The Elf on the Shelf.

The people who invented this guy seem perfectly wonderful people.
Many sweet, fun, kind people have these things.
Many people who love and uphold the Nicene Creed have these things.
Many people who are generally honest with their children have these things.
Many people I really like have these things.

But all of that is bull butter, and they are all mistaken.


Well, I'm so glad you asked.
(And there is no need to point out that you didn't ask)

The principle behind the Elf on the Shelf is this:

Santa makes a list, checks it twice, finds out who is naughty and nice. Right?

How does he do that, Mama?

Well, this little elf here, that I've placed on our shelf, and who magically moves every night to a different spot, well he watches you all the time, and reports back to Santa and tells him whether or not you little people are being good and following the rules.

At any other time of year, it would be clear that this involves blasphemy, heresy and unhealthy parenting.

Think about it:

If I kept a statue of a wood-nymph on my mantle and told the kids that I had no idea how he moved from the mantle to the piano over night, and that he was reporting back to the forest princess about their behavior, the conservative Christian right winged folks would condemn because of the fact that I'm investing something with 'powers' that is clearly an idol and a false god. And the liberal, social worker type would condemn the behavior because I'd be using fear to control my children and lying to them.

Big Brother is watching you, little one.
Or wood nymph.
Or little tiny red pajamed elf.
Or whatever.

It is all the same thing.

But, the position in response - the position held by all of these kind, sweet, creed-and-Jesus-loving, almost-always-else-sane folks - is this:

"But it's for the Christmas magic!"

And I get that. I get that it is not intended as wood-nymph worship on the one hand - or fear mongering on the other. It is intended, like many a myth, to add mystery. It is the same reason we go snipe hunting, tell ghost stories, visit Disney World.
It is all in good fun, you say. It adds the magic.

Well, here is the deal.
I believe in stories. I believe in them fiercely. I fight for the rights of fiction. I'd march on Washington if they tried to take away my myths.

When I met my husband, he was significantly more well-informed than I - why? - because he read non-fiction (and most of it good stuff) like it was going out of style. But, his spirit was weak and afflicted. He didn't have the magic in him - the magic at which the elf is trying to get. Because he didn't know stories. He didn't read fiction.

We, like many people God brings together, helped each other. He got me a subscription to the Economist, and I put John Irving in his hands.

And of course, the children have helped him. He reads to them each night. And he doesn't read them Time Magazine, though I do catch him with Ada on his lap, spouting facts about trees or planets or woodworking or electricity. But usually not; usually, he is filling their heads (and consequently his) with stories.

And of course I'm filling the same heads with stories all the day long. I'm not just teaching about the Roman Empire, but also reading them the myths about Venus. I'm not just teaching them about Victorian England, but also am reading child-adaptations of Dickens. Ada Bee is learning about the American Civil War - and reading (age appropriate) stories of people in battle, and one day, in 10 years or so, I'll get to hand her Cold Mountain and tell her it is the very best story about that time.

And we'll watch Charlie Brown's Christmas and the Grinch.

I fill the lives, heads and souls of my children with fiction. It should be thus filled.

But they know that it's fiction.

And that is the crux. Surrounding your children with Christmas magic - with all year magic - is very much bound up in surrounding them with fiction. (And don't leave yourself out. Get out your Dickens - you will feel more Christmas-y if you actually fill your head, and consequently your soul, with the stories of Christmas).

My children love a good story. But, Eason doesn't think that the Runaway Bunny actually said to his mother that he was going to join the circus.

But that does not ruin the magic. That is still a cherished story at our house.

Stories are a grand thing.
Lying not so much.

If you are a Jewish or Christian person, and you tell your children that the elf on the shelf is watching them, then you are a) lying to them and b) speaking heresy. You are. I promise. Really. It is heretical to believe that there is 'magical' power outside of God. The elf would either have to be an angel or a demon. Pro-elf-on-shelf-folks: Is it sent by God? The devil? No? Then it does not have any magical, spiritual-realm powers. There is no such thing, in orthodox Christianity, nor to my knowledge in orthodox Judaism, as 'magic' apart from the powers of God and Satan.

If you are an atheistic/agnostic secular humanist materialistic person, and you tell your children that the elf on the shelf is watching them, you are contradicting your own belief system, and providing the roots of belief in the irrational, supernatural. (I personally very much do believe in the supernatural, but if you don't want your children believing in God, you sure as heck don't want to plant the seed with the Elf. Wouldn't you rather them believe in the creative, redemptive Trinity?)

Every Christmas, my children and I read The Polar Express - with vigor. It is a great, sweet, magical story, and it has beautiful illustrations. It was read to me as a child in front of the fire. I have magical, nostalgia filled tears in my eyes during many of its readings here.

It is one of the things I have the hardest time holding off until the beginning of Advent each year. Yes, I want to go get it right now.

And the kids love it. Don't you want to ride on a train that mysteriously pulls up to your door and has 'hot cocoa as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars'?

I do. Heavens.

When Bee was three, she leaned over to me and said, "I mean, Mama, you know, trains actually don't run in front of houses, but I like it" (Yes, verbatim. When your children say things like that, you write them down. Or gmail them to yourself for future searchability.)

Trains don't appear on Christmas Eve. Bunnies don't talk. Wardrobes don't lead to other worlds.

She knows it's a story. And embraces the magic in the story. The very point of The Polar Express is in embracing the magic of the Christmas season. And you should.

Christ is coming. Hang your mistletoe (and kiss your date under it). Decorate the trees. Put Pandora on the Rockin' Holidays mixed station. Get your cinnamon and cloves simmer pot going on the stove.

Do it.

You don't need to have the lies to have the magic. Trust me. Come to my house. Truth and Magic are existing together just fine.

And if you have an elf - let him sit there. Just remember, only God can see into the heart.

In the Westminster children's catechism, it says, "Does God know all things?"

And the answer, "Yes. Nothing can be hid from God."

But, pretty much everything can be hidden from a wooden toy.


  1. Hi, this is Louis Schuh. Sims cued me in to this post.
    I am surprised to find you much more puritanical on this issue than I am. I don't see Santa Claus (or his shelf elves) as heretical. If you had told my 8 year old self that believing in Santa Claus was like worshipping a pagan god I would have called you crazy. Santa Claus was just an old man who gave presents to good children. God is, well, God. I never thought Santa Claus wanted my worship, much less deserved it. He just made toys to celebrate Christmas, he wasn't the reason to celebrate it.