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.