My Elf-piphany (or why the Elf on the shelf bugs me)

I’m a bit of a joiner, when other people are doing something cool I tend to get excited and pull a “ooh something new and shiny, let’s do it!”

This is how we came into possession of an Elf on the Shelf.  It looked like so much fun online that I wanted a piece of the Christmas whimsy. I still wasn’t sure how we would do Santa with our two young kids, but I was going for it on the elf front.

I marched into the Hallmark store and marched right back out with $30 less in my bank account and a bag full of Elf.  In a shockingly large box.

If you don’t know the whole concept behind the Elf on the Shelf, here it is: you pay $30 for a little doll who is Santa’s is secret spy for your family. You tell your kids that he’s watching them, that he’ll let Santa know if they’re good or bad. Then you move him every evening (or frantically in the morning because you forgot) to fun and quirky new places in the house. The kids are instructed NOT to touch him or he will lose his magic.  

I got into it for the whimsy, for the hope of a fun tradition our children would remember and smile on years later.

But this year, it’s bothered me endlessly, I resent that little red bugger. Something doesn’t feel right about it in the pit of my stomach.

IMG_1086 Sometimes when our two year old son was extra obnoxiously naughty and hitting his sister in the head with matchbox cars or smearing the table in oatmeal, I’d pull the elf card. “Caedmon, do you want Santa to see you being naughty? You could lose a present. The Elf is seeing you do that.”

Then emotional vomit would come up in my throat and I’d walk away feeling like a horrible person and parent.

And I couldn’t figure out why.

Then two nights ago I had an Elf-piphany.

It started when I decided to have the Elf, who by the way we named Mr. BoJingles, write our children a note that my four year old super star, starting to read daughter Noelle could practice on in the morning.

So I scrambled for some green paper and a nice pen and wrote out this:


“Dear Noelle and Caedmon, Christmas is only three days away, so be good!  Love Mr BoJingles.”

Then I got a little of the ol’ Elf nausea (this could be because I had the stomach bug at the time) “This isn’t right, this is bothering me… why?”

Then I had a true lightbulb of a moment.

“Oh my God, GRACE!”  I shouted at myself in the quiet of the dining room.  But you know, not so loud as to wake up the kids because, priorities.

The Elf on the shelf, as done by the book, flies in the face of grace because we can’t tell our children both these things:

1) Jesus is the whole reason behind Christmas, it’s the day we celebrate that God sent him to the Earth to save us. We give presents to each other to celebrate the fact that Jesus was the best gift ever given.
2) If you’re not good, a magical fat man will take away your presents.

You can’t have both grace and works.  It is out of LOVE we were sent Christ, it is by GRACE we are saved, it is because of this LOVE and GRACE that my (mostly) healthy heart loves to give my children good gifts.

Gifts they do not have to earn. Gifts it would break my heart to take away from them.  Gifts I poured myself into and cannot wait to delight them with.

The Elf on the Shelf concept can’t coexist with the freely given love and grace of the nativity without creating dissonance.

The same dissonance I’d been hearing all season bust just now finally identified.

Do I want my children to live in the ways of Scripture? Absolutely.  But not because they’re afraid of lightening bolts from heaven or a God who will swoop in and steal the good things from their lives.

I want them to long for their Father because they trust him, love him, believe that in his word is the key to the richest, deepest, best possible life on Earth.

So Elf, you can stay for the next two days, but I’m watching both you and my own words. We will rethink you for next year.  You may get the boot, you may be repurposed into another tradition.

But you won’t steal the grace we’re cultivating in these walls, you won’t cause my children to doubt the depth of the love I have from them or the deep beauty that is mingled between the nativity scene.


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  • Jill –

    Amen! Totally agree with you. I love that kindness elves thing you linked way better!

  • Debi Whelan

    Love this Leanne! As soon as you mix grace with any kind of performance/punishment kind of system, it completely loses its beauty. If only the church could get rid of their elves. I’m going to share this one.

  • Lisa

    You hit the nail on the head! I’ve been trying to figure out why I don’t want to start that tradition with my two year old :)

  • Rebecca dH

    I agree! I was against this whole-heartedly and couldn’t figure out why! It could also be because I DON’T like to follow the crowd (or go with the secular reason for the season)… but I think you’re definitely on to something here!