Last week a group of students dissolved into tears as their 8 year old classmate told them that Santa was pretend and, "So are all the stupid Elfs on Shelfs! It's your parents and the teachers, so there!" Eight years old.
Working damage control on this one was dicey because holidays are so intensely personal to families. (If you're not sold on that, make a unilateral decision to change the lights on your tree some year*.) The child in question was offended that the other kids are being lied to...should I tell this child to then to go back and undo one lie with another? Luckily the teacher handled the situation beautifully. I thought that I'd better alert parents to the fact that suspicions were running rampant. I did so, and included a link on how parents could talk to their kids about Santa. Emails poured in with questions and supportive comments. I thought it had been wrapped up pretty smoothly, until the end of the day when parent called my cell, frantic about the social media fingers pointing out her child as being the perpetrator (which he wasn't). Adults. We can ruin just about anything can't we?
So here's what we've created that now goes down from December 1-25 with our kids. We begin by ceding total parental control to the North Pole. You see, on December 1, an army of elves come off of unemployment and break into the homes of some boys and girls. Some children have two elves. Some elves dress up, some write letters. And for the next 25 days the kids operate under the assumption that the elf is watching and gives daily reports back to the Big Man about their behavior. Some of the elves just sit there. Watching. Some cough up a gift every other or every day, some do naughty "fun" things every night. Could be a festive snowball fight with Mr. Potato Head, scattering marshmallows all over the (obviously pet-free) house. Maybe the toilet will be gift wrapped, or the water turned blue as he fishes for Swedish Fish. Perhaps he'll make a hot tub out of the crock pot, toilet paper the tree, leave Hershey "poops" all over the cabinet....(apparently elves love potty humor).
Then, every morning, the kids hit the door breathless, not being able to wait to tell anyone who will listen what their elf did the night before. This is where it gets weird. "MY elf brought me a box of candy...MY elf brought me a Transformer!" Shoulders slump on the kids whose elves just farted in a jar for them. And for 25 days, the kids with no elf just listen. "Why don't I have an elf? Doesn't Santa love me?" To make up for it, lots of teachers have elves in their classroom. Some school elves encourage acts of kindness, but some are just corporate spies. After 25 days of celebrating the elf's naughty "fun" behavior (and confusing the jingles out of kids who get ratted out and punished for performing similar stunts), the little scamps return to the North Pole to sponge off of the Claus Fam 'til the season comes 'round again, and the kids are once again safe to take over their home for the next 11 months.
Then there are the Christmas lists that we encourage the kids to write. Some kids ask for and will receive Disney trips, bikes, and toys from floor to ceiling. Some of our kids have learned that times are tough and Santa can only afford to bring them one or two toys, so they don't really ask for anything. There might be toys from our Angel tree to add to the stash, but they don't know that. They do wonder though. Why no elf? Why don't we go get pictures with Santa? Why don't we have Christmas parties at my house? Then the other sets of worries start to creep in. Will Santa know which house to find me in? Will my family fight? Will my (pick a relative) pass out again? Will my (pick a relative) have Christmas in jail?
After awhile everyone is exhausted, because we've been vomiting red, green, and sparkle since November 1. On the Christmas Richter Scale, the positive and negative energy becomes exponentially greater every day. Routines are off, sugar and red dye intake is up, expectations of baking, shopping, and family movie nights are high... disappointments start to roll in like waves as those unrealized things pile up. And they do in every family because LIFE. Kids start going off the rails. Adults have BEEN off the rails. Everyone seems to be possessed by the Ghost of Christmas Aghast.
We have complicated, retailed, pimped out, sparklefied and funified the life out of Christmas. And I haven't even yet delved into how we are missing the entire reason for the season. Jesus in the manger has been squeezed out to make room for the elf on the shelf. It's a mess.
I would like to boldly suggest that in 2019, a rogue, viral strain of candy flu wipes out the whole colony of elves. On 12/1/2019 everyone will get a note of thanks for the good times together, and a blessed reassurance that Angel Elf knows each child will be good because there are high expectations being set and realized all year long. Then let's simplify Christmas and take it down a few notches. What about 4-5 gifts per person: something they want, something they need, something to read, something to do and a Santa's choice gift. Let's get back to experiences, baking, family movies, and the real sparkle... being kind to our friends and family all year long.
And then I wake up.
Four more days of elf-fest to go.
*Hypothetical suggestion only; not recommended to change any holiday tradition without the expressed and explicit consent of parties involved. This post-script serves as hold-harmless clause, and thereby releases author from any therapy bills or trauma caused to the family, real or imagined. Urge to change lasting 4 hours of longer, though rare, may require medical attention.