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The Elf on the Shelf, I Have Hated Him Myself

By Hildie Westenhaver

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I may or may not have announced on Facebook a couple of weeks ago: “If you post pictures of your Elf on the Shelf I will unfriend you for the month of December.” Partly to be funny, but partly out of spite I felt I needed to issue my warning. Some people like this “tradition” (Nobody was doing it five years ago so it’s not really that much of a tradition), but some people really despise it (me!). There are so many reasons I hate it: using weird bribery to get kids to behave, furthering the “I Believe” cult of people bearing their testimonies of Santa, and it does have such a creepy little face. Mostly, though, I hate this Elf on the Shelf thing because it symbolizes all the crazy stuff we do to ourselves during the holiday season. Somehow Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day have come together to create a completely bizarre tradition: an Elf that gets into crazy mischief every single night. As if buying presents, giving neighbor gifts, attending concerts and/or parties, making travel arrangements, decorating our houses, doing one or more advent calendars, and baking at least a few more times than we usually do isn’t enough. Now we have this Elf to worry about to.

I know that most of the people who do it say it’s a fun and harmless tradition. But it seems to be a bit overboard. It seems to be just one more thing to increase the chance of being in a bad mood come December 25th. I would just ask all the big proponents of the Elf movement how many times they’ve posted pictures of their Elf hijinx on Facebook, blogs or Instagram. Because it seems that the people who are most into the Elf are the ones who are most active in social media. Are they really doing it for their kids or are they doing it to impress everyone else?

Is the Elf on the Shelf really to blame? Or is it just a symptom of our runaway culture? Is everything about Christmas getting out of hand? I have to admit that a few years ago when I had had enough of “all this materialism” and decided to make every single Christmas present by hand for all our relatives that I became a stressed out basket case. That Christmas was sheer misery. I thought that by making everything I would somehow get in touch with the spirit of Christmas, only to find myself knitting and making soap at 3 am on several occasions.

Every year I think that I will streamline the holidays somehow. But three of the kids have concerts. The High School voice student recital being particularly painful, but it’s not like I can skip it and not hear my daughter sing. Same with the piano recital. And work parties (I’m sure my husband has memorized my diatribe about hating an evening spent with his drunk coworkers). But these are all things that must be done. The work Christmas party is number one on my husband’s list of necessary events.

Here I sit, though, staring at a hundred paper stars that I spent most of yesterday applying glitter to. They’re for the ward party, which I am in charge of. Did I need to make a ton of glittery stars? I guess not, but you try coming up with centerpieces for a ward party with a teensy budget! Is it necessary or is this my personal Elf on the Shelf?

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Is there hope for me and all the other frazzled parents or is just the reality that we have all created? Why am I even thinking that December should be any different? Where is this elusive holiday where all I need to worry about is helping others and feeling the love of Christ? Is this just a figment of our collective imagination, like a perfect wedding or a family reunion where nobody gets their feelings hurt? Maybe I just need to ratchet up my caffeine intake, get used to shopping at stores that are open 24-hours-a-day and accept Christmas in all it’s nutty insanity; elves, recitals and all.

About Hildie Westenhaver

(Blog Team) was born and raised in Detroit, but is happy to call Austin, TX home now. She majored in Art History and Geography at BYU and graduated a week before having her first baby. There have been five more babies since then. Hildie is an avid baker and tries to fatten up the people she loves.

33 thoughts on “The Elf on the Shelf, I Have Hated Him Myself”

  1. Yes! Preach! I feel the same way. I don't even have kids, so maybe that is partly to blame on my curmudgeon attitude. But, yes the runaway culture of Christmas is a bit out of hand. This made me laugh. 🙂

  2. I hate Elf on the Shelf with a vehemence that transcends words! I don't even know why – I don't have kids and my family has all but stopped doing gifts, so it's not like I feel overburdened during the holiday season. In fact, because most days are just average work days for me, my challenge during the holiday season is to actually remember that I should be taking time to think about Christ's birth and exude a little Christmas cheer.

  3. Elf on a Shelf is a gimmick, and that's why I hate it. The only reason it exists is because somebody figured out they could make a bazillion dollars selling it. Sadly, they were right.

    Oh, and here's a free centerpiece idea: Ask several people in the ward to bring something from home to set on one of the tables that night. Most people have several decorations out at the holidays that might not be intended as centerpieces but work out just fine.

  4. It is nice to know you are not the only one who feels this way. It is sometimes ironic how in our very efforts to observe the season we lose the spirit of Christ. Just today I was pondering how we have not had a normal holiday season for the past few years. Each year I have this little hope the season will be peaceful that very often goes unmet, but there have been silent moments even if there cannot be alient nights. I think that when the spirit guides us, we can come closer to keeping Christ in Christmas….with whatever works for you and your family….we may not have an elf on the shelf but there is a manger beneath the tree and my kids know why. I gave up several years ago pushing the Santas watching line and starting talking more about the gifts of self-kindness, service, love… that has worked well for us

  5. Fellow elf shelf hater, and flabbergasted you glittered stars. When I was on the Christmas party planning committee I shared my opinion about all if the overboard ideas (laundering and ironing tablecloths) while advocating for less glitz (Kraft paper, holla!) and more time connecting with each other. I refuse to be guilted into making something that will be thrown away. If they choose it, they deal with the consequences….

  6. Amen, sister! Maybe Elf on the Shelf-ers don't read Segullah. In all my self-righteousness I am going to say this is a better way to spend my time. 🙂

  7. I must throw my hat in pro Elf-on-the-Shelf. Kind of. I HAD an elf on the shelf a child. He was made of styrofoam, felt, and a wire hanger. He sat on a single shelf and he was, in adult words describing childhood notions, a physical representation of a invisible elf who wanted to ensure I did not fight with my brother and kept my room clean in order to reduce how stressed my mom was about Christmas in general.

    Now, going into the anti-camp. I HATE the commercialized mischaracterization of my childhood tradition and I really hate all of the daily stress a single notion/tradition causes.

    Now regarding my philosophy on managing my Christmas list I shall hold my tongue. Right now I have only a two year old, so I have very little pressure coming from within my own household.

  8. I decided to stop hating the Elf when I saw how much some of my friends' kids love them. To each their own. But when my kids asked for one last year and this year, I said an absolute no. I can't manage one more thing. Not One More Thing. So if you love creating magical memories for your kids and you like the idea of the elf, that's great. I just can't do it.

  9. I'm a convert to the Church (grew up Lutheran) and we never decorated for our congregation's parties, so the whole centerpiece and decoration thing is really odd to me. Why do we have to spend any money on decorations? Isn't it about fellowship? Can Mormons only do that in decorated rooms?

    I don't want to detract from anyone else's enjoyment, but every time I see a fancy centerpiece I can't help but think that the money spent on that could have clothed the naked or fed the hungry. Some GOOD could have been done in the world instead.

  10. Oh, man. I have read so many elf-hate posts that I feel I must respectfully speak up in defense. Who is to say that just because a tradition is nouveau that it isn’t worthwhile? Why do people assume that doing “the elf” and having a Christ-centered Christmas cannot be done simultaneously? I would never dream of telling anyone that their tradition, whatever it may be, is creepy or weird just because I happen not to like it. There is no written rule that says that every tradition has to work for and be approved by every family. If people are flummoxed by elves clogging their Facebook feed, the only difference I can tell between elf posters and people who post gratuitous pictures of their dogs/begonias/dinner/etc. is that the elves have an expiration date of 12/24, while, as Facebook participants, we willingly subject ourselves to everyone else posting pictures of their dog looking out the window for the umpteenth time. Does that interest me? Um. No. But if it makes my friend happy to post it, it’s no skin off my nose. Just scroll on by. I’m not offended at all if people don’t “get” our elf, or think he’s a bit creepy. But I am compelled to say that while it is a silly (and a little freaky looking) piece of felt and plastic, what it does for my kids by making them giddy with joy every day makes him special to us and worth the little trouble it takes to move him. (We rarely pull elaborate elf stunts, and the average time it takes for us to relocate him is about 30 seconds, making the ROI quite EXCELLENT.) The other day, I caught My pre-school-aged daughter talking to him when she didn’t think anyone was listening. She just wanted him to know that her sister had helped her with her toothpaste that morning (so she would be sure to get the nice points for that – which is NOT child abuse, by the way) and reminded him that her sister wanted an Ariel doll. It was so very sweet, and he didn’t only make their day, he made mine. He is loved in our home for this reason. So instead of getting upset that there is too much elf traffic in your feed, just think about how that wacky toy probably made a kid literally riddled with glee. It makes me happy knowing it made a kid happy. WHO CARES what the parent’s method was for posting it? I have better things to do! All of the time spent hating on elves could be used rather effectively to HIDE one. Or eat chocolate. So pick your poison, folks, and get on that. 😉

  11. I have no desire to have an Elf on the Shelf. But I also have no feelings of any kind toward those who DO have an Elf on the Shelf. I find both impulses curious: (e.g., the impulse to own an Elf and the impulse to bag on said Elf).

    Hey, I've been known to bag on things in my day. But I also think the impulse to cry out against the Elf-ers is ANOTHER manifestation of holiday madness, the whole, "Oh, crap, now I have to do THIS because all the good mothers do this, apparently, but I don't want to do it so I'll come out in opposition against it, therefore protecting myself from any self-recrimination for not being a good, Shelf-Elf-Having mother!" (Does that make sense?)

    Maybe, in my old age, I'm becoming a holiday Libertarian: Just do your thang! Long holiday letters? Awesome. Crazy Christmas lights on your house? Excellent. Those totally over-the-top cookie exchange parties where you have to bake like 12 dozen cookies and then come home with so many that you can't eat them all? Perfecto! Dozens and dozens of handmade holiday stars? Gorgeous! Just don't expect me to do your thang, and I won't expect you to do my thang, and nobody will have to call out anybody and we can all just have a Merry Christmas.

    Merry Christmas! 🙂

  12. Ward Party Centerpieces= salt and pepper, plate with butter on it.

    We have a Christmas Dinosaur, this is our first year with him and its been hilarious. He doesn't do big messy mischievous things, but he did eat an elf that was on a shelf, (it was a chocolate one) and has attempted to eat other elves in the house. My kid has given him strict instructions not to mess with her Legos.

    We also have a wandering Baby Jesus in our advent calender, a stuffed killer unicorn, and various other things that are always moving around and pranking people. I just think a veliciraptor is a lot less creepy than the Elf.

  13. Our RS invited anyone who has a nativity they'd like to share to bring it, and they are the center pieces and or decorations for the night. It's fun and interesting to see the wide variety of nativities from around the world. some years they've just had 10 people who wanted to do a centerpiece of their choice sign up to do so for one of the tables. No stress or expense for the committee or budget.

    TEOTS came about after my kids were past that age, so it hasn't been part of our lives. I don't care one way or the other about anything anyone wants to do. They get to. And *I* get to, or get to not…my choice. Learning to not feel pressured by the things others do is an ongoing process, but I'm making progress. There is simply no way I can keep up with the Jones' AND the Smiths, Miners, Johnsons and Browns 🙂

    I hope no one throws your pretty stars away. You could make a star tree with just those as ornaments. ♥

  14. Please don't make people bring their own centerpieces to decorate the table they'll likely sit at (because they want to make sure some kid doesn't ruin their centerpiece). Our ward did that one year and it was so…lame. It coincided with our ward's inability to manage without an activities' committee. I'm not looking for glittered stars, but the people decorating shouldn't be the participants. Just my $0.02.

  15. Had a profound "elf on the shelf" conversation with a friend/teacher that I work with today.
    After I expressed my dislike of the character she said, "I know what's with that? Right at the tender age we (the people they love and trust) are teaching our children to believe in God – even though we can't see him, he knows all – they are experiencing elves, santa, Easter bunny, tooth fairy & when the truth all comes out, how are they to trust us about God?"
    Blew my mind. She's right.

    And- I love the no decoration idea. I don't know about your wards, but seeing huge struggles in ours without an official activities chair.

  16. Oh, I so loathe that dang Hall marketed faux-dition! People seem genuinely shocked and surprised that I have no desire to see what thee stupid elf "did" today…times a million Facebook posts on my feed. Please, can we make one board someplace for those people to impress each other with the bizarreness and leave the/rest of us alone.

  17. Speaking of our culture/society (whatever you want to label it), how have we come so far from the simplicity of Bethlehem?
    I long for Christmas seasons of BEING and FEELING instead of so much DOING,

  18. I loved your comment, Angela. I'm a Libertarian when it comes to what people want to do too. I don't care about following the crowd fortunately. Never did (except in 7th grade I really wanted Birkenstocks but couldn't afford them). I have taught my kids that Santa wasn't real since day one. I try to focus on the birth of the savior. And I'm pretty no-nonsense about my Christmas activities. We still have stocking and gifts from "Santa" but I'm clear that it's just for fun. I also try to limit gift expectation and find a charity we can give to together. Some years are better than others in achieving that.

    I'm not one who would ever do elf on the shelf, but whatever floats your boat. He isn't appealingly designed and that also keeps me from being interested in him.

  19. I have never had a friend post on facebook about doing Elf on the Shelf. I am blissfully protected from this horrible tradition.
    From what I have read about Elf on the Shelf it represents things about my culture that I am against. This is who I picture does Elf on the Shelf.
    Moms who have too much free time that could be spent doing something useful for their family or society. Moms who spend too much money on useless decor. Moms who think that their worth is based on how clean their house is or how perfect their lives are. Moms who don't know how teach their children to behave. Moms who give empty threats that they never mean trying to get their kids to behave (wonder why the kids don't listen to them if they threaten to cancel Christmas which is never actually going to happen).
    Anyway, as a person who doesn't actually know people who have told me about using Elf on the Shelf, this is my opinion of who uses it. For some reason it represents privelege and poor parenting to me.
    Personally, I try to look at my life objectively. If I were a single mom at work all day and I come home what would I do with my time? If I lived in a very poor country without material goods what would I value? I try to live my life so that I wouldn't be a different person if my circumstances were completely different.
    Is Elf on the Shelf harmless? Maybe it is. It probably is. But to me it represents stuff I don't approve of.
    If you are actually my friend and I find out you are doing it, I will happily forgive you and love you and accept you. Just like I accept people who obviously spend too much time, money and effort on looking perfect, or too much time, money and effort on consuming entertainment or in some other way don't live up to my personal standards. Not a problem. People don't have to be perfect, and they certainly don't have to be my version of perfect.

  20. jks, you will happily "forgive" your friends for doing the Elf on the Shelf? REALLY? Did their elf do anything to harm you personally and with intent? Seriously, people, get over yourselves. It is harmless and FUN. Stop being so judgey and just let people do their traditions. They do not require your approval!

  21. I do elf on the shelf for my children, and they love it. It brings more magic and fun to our Christmas, and yes you can also have a Christ centered Christmas and still do these "horrible" traditions. We do Santa AND elf on the shelf and my kids STILL know the significance of the manger…imagine that! I started elf on the shelf because I thought it would be a fun tradition. Children grow up too fast in our society, and I thought it would be a way to help keep their childhood as long as possible. (And just so you know jks, since you said you don't actually know anyone who does elf on the shelf, let me just tell you that no I do not have too much time on my hands, no I do not believe my worth depends on how clean my house is, and my kids are very well behaved, and not just at Christmas. But thank you for making assumptions about me and every other mom who does this.) Also, I grew up (along with most other adults i know) believing in Santa, the Easter bunny, tooth fairy, leprechaun etc., and I have never had an issue believing in God, I never equated the two. Yes, I think people can go a bit overboard with their traditions, and I think some of these traditions can definitely detract from the true meaning of Christmas if we let it. But to me, harshly judging others for how they spend their Christmas causes us to lose the spirit of Christ much more than moving a felt elf around your house for a couple of weeks.

  22. I know. My view is totally judgy. Maybe if I knew people who did it it would seem more normal. Or maybe I'm from an older generation that doesn't understand. But do we really have to approve of everyone else's parenting or tradition or habits? Don't most people have opinions? I'm sure many people don't approve of some of my parenting habits. I try not to advertise them too much to avoid censure (while generally open, I just don't bother announcing how long my 5 year old goes between baths). I think it is legitimate to acknoweldge that people can do what they want, but wish that our culture did less of a certain thing. If someone thinks putting up Christmas lights is messed up, for instance, I could acknowledge their point even while choosing to do it anyway because I decide the benefit outweighs the negatives.

  23. We brought our Elf home as a prize from a holiday party 2 years ago. We don't read the book that came with it, so my kids have forgotten about the "reporting behavior to Santa" part. They think it's fun. We're kind of low key about it, so it works for our family. I haven't felt like it detracts in any way from our ability to celebrate the spiritual significance of Christmas. I don't have very strong feelings about the elf. I do have strong opinions about how nit picky we get about how other families choose to celebrate. Speaking of celebrating, it's been a lesson a long time in the making, but I've realized that my mental, emotional, and spiritual energy is much better spent on celebrating my friends' best efforts rather than criticizing them, even when (and maybe especially) when I don't understand or share them.

    In other news, last year I was in charge of the ward Christmas party and we had the Activity Days girls and Cub Scouts make all the decorations. It was awesome. We had styrofoam cup snowman centerpieces and paper snowflake garlands all over the place. The kids were so excited to bring their families to the party and show off their hard work.

  24. I'm the fellow elf-hater from above, and really, if you want to do it, I don't care.

    A family member gave us our elf as a wrapped gift (without asking first) along with a letter my daughter opened first explaining what it did and what I was now obligated to do without having given my agreement.

    In a pinterest era where too many parents get caught up in fluff and giggles and squees and 'making memories' for the kids….it sybolyzes the complex that comes from pinterest perfection overboardness. I'd much rather spend my time simplifying and make other types of memories. put that time into cuddling, reading, etc. So in general I'm against what it symbolizes to me.

    my dad posted a pinterest picture as an elf suggestion to us kids to frost cheerios in different colors, add sprinkles, fold a tiny box, and then have the elf have it's own dozen set of doughnuts. are you flapping kidding me? I almost died. Please shoot me the day I ever frost cheerios for the infernal thing :-).

  25. Well, I was on borrowed time. Tonight I found my first friend on Facebook posting about her Elf on the Shelf. Good thing I try to keep facebook happy and neutral, because I don't want to criticize friends. However, debating aspects of our culture on blogs is interesting!

  26. The one thing that really puzzles me is this: if the elf is supposedly keeping an eye on my kids' behavior to report back to Santa, why on earth do so many people thing it's funny to have the elf doing things that would immediately get my kids names on the naughty list? Why is the elf set up to be such a bad example? Yeah, it's all funny if he elf does it, but I wouldn't my kids doing most of the things I see people having their elves "do".

  27. Yes, you certainly would't want to criticize your friends for doing something that bring happiness and magic to their kids. I save my criticizing for people who actually DO abuse and neglect their kids. Not for people who want their kids to be happy. Geesh, people.

  28. We just recently started the elf on the shelf in our household. We do it though just a little bit different than most. The elf is there to be cute and fun ONLY. Nothing has been said about how hes watching you and is going to tell "santa" I was not raised to believe in santa and doubt i will have my children believing in him either. But it does make for a funny little guy getting into mischief around the house.


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