In Which I Am A Curmudgeon

I’ve watched the Elf on the Shelf trend for several years, and I am going to come out and say it: I just don’t get the popularity among Christian families.

Doing something every day (even for a season) makes it a pretty big deal. An elf that reports in to Santa and plays tricks around your house? What message is that sending?

We don’t do Santa. There are lots of reasons, but primarily because gifts are not the focus of our Christmas celebration. However, I can see how Santa could be a fun part of a Christian family’s Christmas without taking it over. Santa could bring one special gift. You don’t have to emphasize the naughty and nice element. This is certainly an area where freedom abounds.

I’ve said before, and will say again for clarity’s sake, it would be weird if all a family’s traditions were religious in nature and had deep theological meaning. It’s good to have fun traditions and family culture. I am not knocking that at all.

But Christmas is about incarnation. God in flesh, who came to dwell with us. It’s an amazing picture of grace.

How does the elf on a shelf fit into an incarnational Christmas celebration? God doesn’t keep a naughty list. He knows how sin easily entangles us. I want my children to know God’s holiness and to strive to follow Jesus in obedience. But I also want them to know that God wants repentant hearts more than compliant exteriors. Jesus came to call sinners, not the righteous.

The things that we spend the most time and energy on during Advent and Christmas are going to be things that draw us to this great story of incarnation. The hope and longing for a rescuer, then the joy at His appearing.

That’s not to say that we won’t watch Frosty or drive around looking at lights or do a myriad of other things that are not Christ-centered. But none of those things are daily, central parts of our celebration.

Maybe I’m wrong and your elf is gracious and kind and brings your child a Jesse Tree story every morning. Feel free to share if you’ve figured out a way to reconcile the elf to your Christmas celebration. I’ve just spent several years a little mystified watching this trend explode.

13 responses to “In Which I Am A Curmudgeon

  1. I’m a curmudgeon too … I just don’t get it. And, you’re much more generous than I by coming up with ways to “improve” it …

  2. Last year when I worked at the charter school, I found the Elf on the Shelf thing very difficult to navigate as a teacher. Everyone’s family does it a little bit differently and it was hard to answer some of the questions about why it was different for different families. Santa is pretty basic, but the Elf on the Shelf . . . sometimes he does pranks, sometimes he brings notes, sometimes he just moves to a different spot. I have some friends who do the Elf on the Shelf who don’t really focus on the naughty/nice thing. I think they just do it as part of the Santa fun/magic of Christmas stuff.

    We’re not going to do Santa since he’s never been part of my family’s traditions. And I actually think the Elf is kind of creepy looking.

  3. Bob Wiegers

    amen. I hate that whole concept, mostly because it is anti-gospel at the heart. I guess (hope) that most folks don’t think along these lines and just think its cute, but it really comes down to: “gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.” (yay for the law!) and then somehow everyone gets presents anyway (guess I’m “good enough”!). sigh.

  4. I didn’t even know about this until just now. I had to look it up to see what you were talking about :) Why does this make me feel old? It’ll be interesting to see if you get any comments that are pro-elf.

  5. One of my biggest concerns about the Santa-Naughty/Nice issue is what it says about people in poverty. I think it’s great to have kids help choose gifts for Operation Christmas Child, Angel Tree and similar ministries, an opportunity to cultivate a spirit of giving. An astute 4-5 year old is going to wonder why Santa doesn’t bring those kids gifts himself. And the logical explanation is that they have been naughty. :(

    And then, like Bob mentioned, one can drift into “you’ve been good enough” territory, which is problematic on a whole different level.

    • We had this very same conversation regarding Angel Tree and Operation Christmas Child. I was telling C that we needed to pick out nice, durable gifts that would last (not just the cheap dollar store crayons) because these were the only gifts that that child would probably get that year. He asked why Santa wouldn’t bring them anything. Thankfully we never tied presents and Santa to behavior at our house, what little we did do of Santa. I told him that some cultures didn’t believe in Santa so he didn’t visit them, or some other such nonesense. I regret now having ever had to do Santa, but it was family politics.

      Also, I think we will start making a MUCH bigger deal out of C’s birthday and giving him the bulk of his gifts then, instead of at Christmas. It’s terrible for him (and us) that his birthday is in December because that month turns into one big gift fest because we are blessed with generous friends and family. I do hate that the season to celebrate our Savior has become a season to “get what I want”. “Spoiling” your kid on their birthday makes much more sense to me since that day is set aside to celebrate them anyway.

      • and the Santa conversation was last year or year before, not this year :) Santa is dead at our house now!

      • Our plan is also to make birthdays a big deal and to minimize Christmas presents. I work at a high-poverty school, so I share many of these Santa concerns . . .

        My mom says one reason she didn’t do Santa with us is that she didn’t want us to think that presents just appear out of nowhere. Things have a cost. We can’t just wish and make them appear.

  6. I completely agree and just blogged on the same topic. God didn’t bring us Jesus because we were on the ‘nice’ list!

  7. I knew nothing about this trend, though I have seen some of my Facebook friends posting “Elf” status messages that mystified me. Now that I’ve briefed myself, it seems very clear that this is nothing but another retailing opportunity. Have you looked at their website? It’s all about selling books, movies, toys, games, tee shirts, etc. As if we needed another thing like that!

  8. I don’t get the Elf thing, either. I’ve refused to do it for some of those same reasons you and others stated. And the commercialism.

    But, we do play Santa with our kids. We know they will figure it out soon enough, and that’s okay. I think we might emphasize being Santa’s helpers, because we already talk about that when we pick out an Angel Tree gift. So far, Santa has brought one special present each year to Nana and Papa’s house and we’ve “seen” him once when he’s made an appearance at our neighborhood. It’s mostly a family tradition that we continue because we spend the night at the grandparents’ house each year and it’s something they’ve wanted to do. We’ll see how it plays out when the boys are older (oldest is just 4). But, we don’t emphasize being on the naughty list. I was almost livid when our pediatrician brought it up unasked (being naughty or nice –sharing– or Santa won’t bring you presents) at our last visit … I guess I’d have to field that anyway b/c he just assumed we do Santa. Kind of annoying. Maybe I need a new pediatrician.

    It’s hard to burst the 4 year-old’s bubble b/c some kid told him one day that Santa wasn’t real and he strongly defended the honor of Santa. We did tell him the St. Nick story, though, too. Of course, I’m also getting questions about “Are dragons real?” so we’re working on this.

  9. We enjoy Santa but also have several nativity sets out and read stories focused on the birth of Christ this time of year as well.

  10. Ha ha… I love this :) Couldn’t agree more! We are non-Santa-ers, too. By the way, love your thoughtful blog! You are a pro. Can you come teach me how to do all of this? :)

Leave a Reply

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