Spoiler alert: If you’re certain Santa Claus will be coming down your chimney on Dec. 24 (and we here at Patch assure you he is!), there is no need to read any further. Just boring grown-up talk down there. (I know, “Blah blah taxes blah blah retirement blah when I was your age,” am I right?) Go check out our Holiday Guide instead. Thanks, and ho ho ho!
In my home, there lurks a beady-eyed intruder, crafty and strange. One night, he hovers above the dinner table; the next, he’s peeping out from a bookshelf. He never blinks. He sees all. He is an elf, an Elf on a Shelf, and he holds our household’s Christmas cheer in his tiny, malevolent hands.
The Elf on the Shelf, you see, is a dedicated servant of St. Nick, sent from the North Pole to carefully monitor all behavior in our house and report his findings back to his master nightly. No wicked deed escapes his notice, and one too many poor reports to the Big Man can lead to a Christmas morning bereft of gifts and instead overflowing with coal (not even clean coal, either). Or at least that’s the carefully crafted story delivered to our son and many others like him, each of them in thrall to this sinister spy. Behave yourself, the parent says: the Elf is Watching.
In a way, it is a parental relief system; it relieves us of the burden of being Santa’s heavy-handed messenger while at the same time giving physical representation to the carrot-stick program in play around Christmastime. Behavior monitoring, attitude correction, administering a time-out justice system, all of it is an exhausting and endless endeavor. The Elf, for a few weeks out of the year anyway, relieves us of our Judge Dredd burden. No longer are we judge and jury; no longer are we the heavy hands in our home. We cede our authority to a tiny doll, and we are glad to do it.
I read 1984 in high school, like most Americans, but, unlike most, I reread it. And reread it again. I was fascinated by a world in which everything was monitored and everything you were told was a lie. Taken as a novel alone, though, even without its cautionary theme, the book is a fantastic read, with a great twist. There is no Big Brother. The villain, the omnipotent dictator pictured on posters plastered everywhere, is a myth. He is everywhere but nowhere. You see him around every corner but never actually see him.
What’s more, the most fanatical followers of Big Brother, his most dedicated emissaries to the world gripped tight in his nonexistent hands, know he doesn’t exist—and follow him anyway.
Such is Santa and his Elf, in my house anyway. My wife and I simultaneously know that we brought the ever watchful Elf into our home, we gave him his story and his power—and yet we still give him a half glance when we’re about to do something wrong (sneaking candy before dinner, perhaps, maybe picking food up off the floor and handing it directly back to our toddler. Telling people we have plans when really it’s just a couch and ice cream and not having to put on outside clothes keeping us from meeting you for dinner). Perhaps depending so heavily on the Elf means you owe him your allegiance. Perhaps Christmastime is time for cognitive dissonance anyway, a winter holiday with pagan roots celebrated for religion by consuming as much as possible.
Much like my son’s introduction to capitalism, though, I fear foisting the Elf on a Shelf into his innocent existence is dragging him into adulthood too soon. Sure, I have to worry about the extension and expansion of the Patriot Act, but shouldn’t my son be free of privacy invasion within the four walls of his crib? Drones roam our skies and cameras line our roads; must even our Christmas tree be filled with eyes?
In a word: yes. That one dinner, that one time, when I can just point wordlessly to our pointy-hatted curled-shoe savior and be rewarded with obedient silence makes it all worth it. We hear you, Elf, and obey. I might be an acolyte of Big Brother Elf; heck, I might even be a cotton-headed ninnymuggins. But, for this blessed season, I am not the law.