Revisiting a Modest Proposal.
As an elementary principal I have inside access to the amusing, hilarious, sometimes troubling and sad world of elementary kids, where the results of parenting foibles play out on the daily. Decembers are particularly jarring on the inside. It was the second week before Christmas last year when a group of students dissolved into tears as their eight-year-old classmate told them that Santa was pretend and, "so are all the stupid elfs on your stupid shelfs! It's your parents and the teachers, so HA!" Eight years old.
The perp was mad that his comrades were being lied to. So how was I supposed to look at him? Cottonheadedninnymuggins or Truth Warrior? Working damage control and protecting feelings was dicey since the holidays are so intensely personal to families. (Not sold on that? Make a unilateral decision to switch up the color of lights on your tree some year*.) I decided to email an alert to parents that suspicions were running rampant, including a link** on how to talk to their kids about Santa, just in case. Concerned responses poured in. I hadn’t received that many responses since the great sewage evacuation of 2009. I fielded messages until late in the evening when a parent called, frantic about grown-up social media fingers pointing to her child as the culprit (which he wasn't). Grown-ups. We can ruin just about anything can't we?
Need some more proof? Here’s what really goes down with kids in December. It begins with large-scale cessation of kid-control to the North Pole. See, on December 1, an army of elves come off unemployment and take up residence on mantles and shelves. Kids operate under the assumption that the elves see all and report back to the Big Man. Parents rely on said home invader to bribe, cajole, and threaten suggest kids into holiday submission. Some elves write letters, some cough up pre-holiday gifts or do "fun" things. Maybe a festive snowball fight with Mr. Potato Head, strewing marshmallows about the (obviously pet-free) house here. Trolling for Swedish Fish in the toilet there. Making a crockpot hot tub, scattering Hershey "poops" (elves love potty humor), toilet papering the perfectly lit tree (see?) It’s all fair game. Less motivated elves just sit there accomplishing their main task-spying. After 24 days of their creeping and naughty/fun antics, the Elfin-Magicians return to the North Pole to sponge off of the Claus Fam 'til next season, leaving the kids to retake control of their homes for 11 more months. A parent told me that her child was “so bad the elf had to come on November 1 this year.” MMhmm. Bringing a treat or present every day.
So who cares? It’s a great diversionary tactic, right? Come stand with me on some December school mornings, as the kids arrive breathless, telling anyone who will listen what their elf did the night before. "MY elf brought candy...MY elf brought a me a Transformer!"
As we look around at the kids in earshot, shoulders slump and there are often tears on the sweet faces of kids whose elves merely farted in a jar for them. But worst of all, the kids with no elf just listen and spend the rest of the day thinking. "Why don't I have an elf? Does Santa love me? I thought I was good." To compensate, some teachers have class elves. Some encourage acts of kindness others are just corporate spies. Truthfully? It’s all super Chris Cringey.
Elves often encourage wish lists. Some kids ask for Disney cruises and quads, while their Elfless classmates learn early that times are tough, and not to wish for much. They do wonder though, often aloud to me. Why no elf? Or pictures with Santa? 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?
Exhaustion from holiday fever sets in at school for kids and staff alike around December 10. By that time routines are off, sugar and red-dye intake is up, expectations of baking, shopping, and family movie nights are high... unrealized expectations start piling up in big, snowy drifts. It’s so easy to let the train go off the rails. As the engineer I work hard keeping everyone focused and on those tracks. It gets harder every year.
We have complicated, pimped out, retailed, sparklefied and funified the joy out of Christmas. Jesus in the manger and candles on the Menorah have been squeezed out to make room for Elf on the Shelf or Mensch on the Bench. It's a hot mess.
I boldly propose that this year a post-Thanksgiving, pandemic strain of Sugar Plum Flu wipes out the entire elf colony. We’ll make the virus news go viral on December 1, along with the blessed assurance that Angel Elf on that Big-Shelf-in-the-Sky knows everyone will be good because they have loving, competent parents. As the news settles in, we will all agree to take it down a few notches. Christmas isn’t just about US.
Let's get back to creating experiences and making memories, baking, family movies, and the real sparkle... being kind and showing love to our friends and neighbors all year long. Especially the kids with no elves.
*Hypothetical suggestion only; changing any holiday tradition without the expressed and explicit consent of parties involved is not recommended. 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 intervention.
**The Sweetest Way to Tell Your Kids the Truth About Santa, Martha Brockenbrough.
Author Jennifer Meliton has been a principal for 21 years. Her proudest accomplishment is being mom to Alexa, whose childhood included Mr. Rogers, Santa and the Easter Bunny. But no elves.