I’m seeing a lot of Elf love on Facebook, Pinterest, and the blogosphere in general these days and it totally warms my heart. I know, as many of you do as well, how wonderful the Elf on the Shelf tradition can be. We love Porkchop, and I’m excited to soon announce the arrival of his new friend.
But I’m seeing a lot of Elf hate, too, this year.
I get it. I do! Honest! I understand why it might be a bit of a pain in the elf to remember to move Junior Mint every night. I get that many parents buy the $30 set expecting that along with their children loving the elf tradition, they will love it, too. And then they don’t and they feel a little trapped and annoyed by it.
And then the Elf-Terrors begin. What are Elf-Terrors? An Elf-Terror is that moment when you are just about to fall asleep when you remember that you forgot to move Sprinkles, or when you wake in a cold sweat at 2a completely unable to remember whether you moved Tootsie Pop or not. The most common Elf-Terror is when you are sitting, aimless, elf in hand, completely out of ideas for Snickerdoodle’s nocturnal wanderings, and the thought of scrolling through Pinterest to find something clever makes you slightly nauseated because you know you’ll never find something you have the energy and supplies to pull off. The worst Elf-Terror is when you spend an hour scrolling through Pinterest anyway and only end up feeling bad about yourself because you know you are just going to stick little Pumpernickel back on top of the lamp where he spends most of his days. I have had Elf-Terrors, too!
I’m here to tell you that it’s totally okay to hate your elf. Oreo is not real! Gumdrop doesn’t give a rat’s behind because he’s made of felt and plastic and doesn’t even have articulated limbs. And all those moms out there, moms like me, who spend stupid amounts of time creating things like elf ladders and zip lines and making elf size donuts out of cheerios? We don’t think you are a bad mom because you just. don’t. love. that. stupid. elf. We love our elves, but we understand that not everyone thinks finding a new location for Butterball is fun. We seriously are not judging you. I promise.
It’s even okay to think it’s stupid and be sick of seeing pictures of elves all over the internet. (Yes, I’m talking to you…you know who you are!)
The thing is, it isn’t okay to feel bad about yourself because someone else does something different. It isn’t okay to feel compelled to compete at Elf on the Shelfing, which, incidentally, is not a real sport so there is no winner, nor any loser. You don’t have to go overboard, even if every kid in your kid’s class talks about how Noodlehead took a marshmallow bubble bath in the kitchen last night, or Twinkle turned the milk a festive color. You don’t even have to participate. There are many get-out-of-elf-free cards you can use and you can decline to get started in the first place. It really is okay to throw in the towel and type up a miniature note telling your kids that they have hearts of gold and will forever be on Santa’s nice list so it’s time for Gingerbread to fly to a new family. Just wait until next November to put your elf on ebay for maximum return on your investment.
But it’s also not okay to bash other families’ traditions.
Sure, Elf on the Shelf is a relatively new tradition, although Japanese “knee hugger” elves have been around for a long time, since about the 1950′s, and I have heard that many families have been using them for generations in the same tradition – an elf who comes and watches little children to report their behavior to Santa in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Maybe they didn’t TP the house or poop candy cane flavored Hershey’s kisses, but this isn’t an entirely new concept. And even new traditions are still traditions. Don’t you have traditions you started with your family?
Every family has traditions, and the ones surrounding Christmas or other major holidays are typically the most “visible” and memorable. Families have been using Santa to remind their children to behave for a very long time and I can’t really remember ever hearing anyone bash Santa as a behavioral modification tool. But Santa is still a tradition.
For my family, Santa is the spirit of giving without the need to receive. Ideally, Santa or not, children begin their childhood receiving and leave childhood with a sense of the importance of giving to others selflessly. Santa is not a lie. Santa is, at worst, a myth. At best, Santa teaches children the value of imagination and how to believe fully in something they cannot see, cannot touch, cannot prove. I don’t believe my children will feel empty, sad, and lied to when they learn the “truth” because for our family, the truth is that Santa is inside all of us. We all have the capacity to love and give, and the magic is in the joy in their eyes on Christmas morning but will last their lifetimes when they see the opportunity to be someone else’s Santa throughout their entire lives.
I was once the recipient of the kind of selfless giving that Santa teaches. In college, I was in a really bad car accident. A car pulled out in front of me and I hit it full on and my car spun out of control. I don’t remember the crash, only being aware of the powder from my airbag deploying and not knowing what to do, whether to cry or scream. I had no idea what had happened. Before I could even decide, I heard voices telling me not to move. Three women had seen the crash and rushed to my aid. I was on my way to see my family for Christmas and they were all on their ways to important things as well – two were headed to a funeral. They called my family on my cell phone, called an ambulance, and stayed with me until the EMTs arrived. One of the women skipped the funeral to ride with me in the ambulance to the hospital and stayed with me until my family arrived. They even took care of my hamster, who was in his cage in the back of my car, to make sure he wasn’t towed away with my totaled car.
I will never forget the selflessness of their act. I have always lamented not knowing their names, not being able to give back to them in some way. I was scared, but I was not alone. And as much as that meant to me, I know that when my mother arrived, it meant even more to her to know that her child was not alone.
I want my kids to be the men and women who rush to the aid of another person in need. I want them to give selflessly, to put their own needs aside when someone else’s needs are greater, whether that person is a stranger, a friend, or their own child.
They can be those people without Santa. I’m not naive enough to believe that their humanity hinges on an overweight man with a red suit and trespassing tendencies. Families who don’t do Santa are not raising children who won’t have the capacity to give. But what better way to start from their first years in teaching them how much joy they can bestow on others, than to bestow joy on them? It isn’t enough for us to give them gifts for Christmas because we teach them to give back to us as well. They make gifts for family members, learning to put more love into gifts rather than simply buying things. But Santa doesn’t ask for anything in return.
How does Porkchop and his foodie-named flock of friends fit into the myth and lessons of Santa?
In our family, he brings us together. We are working to have a close, open family all the time, but in December it is easy to spend more money than time. We do things like bake cookies and do crafts together, but we do those things all year. When we take a scrap of cookie dough and make tiny little cookies to leave for Porkchop, Jack is even more invested in working on making them just right. He is actively involved in making cookies because he wants to give them away, rather than because he likes cookies and wants to eat them. Yesterday, I crocheted him a scarf and he asked me to make one for Porkchop, too. He loved his new scarf, and he wanted to give one to Porkchop as well. He also asked me to make one for Paisley. See how that works?
Porkchop also often reminds Jack to appreciate what he has. He has been a bit more focused on what he wants for Christmas and not as interested in the toys he has, so last night I set up his car track rug with Duplo brick buildings and stands for little action figured to watch car races with Hotwheels cars. I know from experiece that he will explore those toys together more now. I also know from experience that suggesting it myself might work, but tends to make him want me to lead the play since he believes I know the “rules” and he must learn them. But when Porkchop plays with his toys in new ways, it opens a door that can lead anywhere.
As far as the whole behavior thing goes….we have the book, and have read it. And he does know that Porkchop flies home to the North Pole every night to report to Santa, but I generally prefer to point out to Porkchop when Jack does something really nice. In general, I try to verbally note good behavior and try to do so several times a day, even on rough days. Adding Porkchop gives me a reminder, too. Porkchop kind of makes me a better mom by reminding me to focus on the positive.
You don’t have to love the elves. Just understand that some of us love them, for many reasons, and that our reasons are valid. I don’t believe that your children are harmed by not having an elf, or by not receiving gifts from Santa at all. I believe that families who decline these traditions have other traditions, and other ways of teaching the same lessons and forming the same bonds.
By far, the best part of Porkchop is seeing Jack’s face light up with excitement whenever he wakes up to find something silly. He races to find him every morning and is always amused, even on days when I don’t really go all out. He loves to tell me where he found him. The excitement in his eyes on Christmas morning is one of my favorite parts of parenting, and with Porkchop by my side, I get to see that joy more and more. It’s like a drug, and I’m addicted.
Jack recently asked me if faeries are real. I didn’t skip a beat when I responded, “Of course faeries are real!” He will figure out that they aren’t necessarily living in this world, but they can live inside his imagination. Telling him they aren’t real would be like telling him that his Batman action figure can only be Batman, or that he cannot pretend he is a secret agent named James. From where I’m standing, faeries are just as real. Santa is real. Porkchop is real. Jack isn’t lying when he pretends to be his alter ego James. He is pretending. I pretend to be Santa, and I pretend to be an elf named Porkchop, because I want Jack to pretend to be James for as long as there is magic in it for him.
I decided to link up this post with Jennifer at Ramblings of a Suburban Mom.