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Elf on a shelf eating cookies

Have you seen this ‘elf on the shelf’ phenomenon that’s been taking over the world (or at least social media) in the lead up to Christmas in the last few years?

For the uninitiated, it’s where special envoy elves have been sent from the North Pole to homes where small and trusting children reside pre-Christmas on behalf of the big man in red to keep a check on who’s being naughty or nice and report back. While they’re there, the elves often create overnight mischief and most seem to have fairly robust senses of humour and marvellous imaginations. The kids think it’s absolutely hysterical to wake up each morning to discover what prank they’ve played the previous night while they slept peacefully.

Here’s a couple of examples of the goings on that have been happening in my daughter’s house, where three small people live. Their elf is named Ben.

Elf on a shelf on the roof

Christmas elf on a shelf writing with toothpaste

There’s even one at my son-in-law’s work, helping out:

Christmas elf on a shelf making coffee

The whole thing started back in 2005 when mother and daughter team Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell in the US wrote and self-published a book about a cheeky little elf, and set the ground rules. The child/children must name and love their elf (this provides the magic), but they must not touch. And hopefully they will behave nicely so they get a good report.

Since then it’s grown and grown, with animations, awards and follow up books. In 2016 Elf on the Shelf even made it onto a Simpsons’ episode, parodied as the ‘Gnome in the Home’. ” I mean, if you make it onto the Simpsons, you’ve pretty well made it in life. And of course the elves have got their own website where you can, of course, buy stuff. Or just get ideas, or play games, or get apps, or do quizzes, or adopt things, or learn fun facts. Oh my lord! The possibilities.

These little critters are in fact almost all over the world. Check out the hashtag #elfonashelf on an online platform of your choice if you need evidence. Allow several hours for web surfing when you do.

And it seems not only Christian folk are being catered for. As an alternative, a clever Jewish dad, who happens to be a toy marketer, came up with the idea of the ‘Mensch on a Bench’, a toy that looks like a rabbi, so Hanukkah celebrators don’t have to miss out on the holiday fun. A mensch is a person of honour or integrity, by the way. Actually, I think there’s a few family members. It seems that these little Mensches are having quite a bit of ‘funukkah with their Hunukkah’, with some suggestions coming from the manufacturers and, of course, with their own hashtag #menschonabench  More surfing and time wasting available for the taking.

Long live commercialism!

Of course, there are detractors of the concept (to be clear, there will always be detractors of anything) who are aghast at normalising the concept of spying and kids having to submit passively to these invasions of privacy. Where are their civil liberties, they demand to know. Goodness gracious, if it’s okay for the elves to spy on kids, what next? They’ll grow up thinking it’s acceptable for the government to spy too, and what sort of message does that send????? Or it’s really just a dangerous parental crutch and parents are attempting to modify their children’s behaviour with bribery (which is pretty much what this whole naughty/nice business with Santa is all about anyway).

Or …

… it could be that it’s just a whole lot of fun and the kids have an absolutely hoot in the morning tracking down the elf and discovering what the cheeky little fellow has been up to the night before.

Because. Fun. That’s it. No need to moralise or think too deeply. Those elves are just enjoying themselves, and it seems the kids are too.

Not sure about the crazed parents though as they struggle to come up with more and more outlandish ideas of harmless pranks the elf can carry out night after night with increasing measures of the ridiculous.

I rather like the idea of this elf from the Cromlix Hotel. That’s my kind of elf.


And there’s still weeks to go!

Is there an elf at house near you? What’s he/she been up to?

Ben the elf having a Christmas tea party with Barbie and the other toys on the kitchen bench.

Photo: @georgeandgouma