Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: It is Midnight – ” Where is Your Elf on the Shelf?”

Most people, particularly those with children have heard of the “ Elf on the Shelf”. The Elf on the Shelf tradition was created in 2005 by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell who decided over a cup of tea to bring back a Swedish story from Carol’s childhood of an elf sent from Santa to watch over children at Christmas time. Based on the book,The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition, which Carol and Chanda self-published in 2005, the tradition took off and there are more than 12 million Scout Elves in homes far and wide.

According to the tradition, once a family adopts an elf and gives it a name, the elf receives “ Christmas Magic” and can fly to the North Pole every night to tell Santa all about the day’s adventures of the children in that family. Each morning the elf returns to the house and perches in a different place waiting to be found by excited children.

As even the youngest children can tell you, and as explained to me by my little grandchildren ages 3 and 5 – “ You can’t touch the Elf, pointing to Peppermint who was staring at us from a shelf in the kitchen, “If you do he’ll lose his magic!”

While traditions may seem clear, the way that families interpret and respond to them can become quite creative. Here are a few of the stories I heard about the ‘Elf on the Shelf’ from different families.

 Four Against One

In one family of four children all under age seven, the dad was awakened very early by his little ones holding the flashlight he had left out when getting decorations from the crawl space. Startled by the blinding light, he said, “ What’s going on? Shut off that light.”

“Where’s the Elf, Daddy ?” “Where’s Sprinkle?” they asked in unison.

Shaking himself awake with these little ones all aver his bed, he grabbed his cell phone and texted his wife, already on an early work shift.

“ Where is the elf” he texted.

“ Sprinkle is in the North Pole and did not come back today because they were all fighting yesterday. They have to write an apology to Santa for Sprinkle to return,”  she texted back.

At this point, the Dad looked at his kids and asked,

“Were you all fighting yesterday?”

They shook their heads “ NO.”

“ Are you sure, Mom said you were…”

They held their position, “ No, we weren’t…not yesterday,” they insisted.

“ Well Mom says that for Sprinkle to come back you have to write an apology letter, saying you are sorry to Santa. Maybe that’s a good idea if you were fighting any day.”

Dragging himself to the kitchen table he put out paper and pencils. “ I think you should try.”

They sat down and as he walked away, he heard them speaking and scribbling. When he came back, he asked,

“ Ok, how’d we do, did you write the letter?”

The oldest responded,

“Yes, we asked Santa  if we could have a new Elf, named Candy Cane.

“ Really? – I don’t think that’s the way if works.”

“ Yes Daddy, we think Santa will send  us a new Elf.”

It’s hard to fight four little ones with a strong belief in their rights and Santa!

The Elf on The Shelf and Parental Anxiety

When I asked one young dad whether his little girls believed in the Elf on the Shelf, he answered with a moan, “ Oh yes they love it, but the pressure to move the Elf to an interesting hiding place every night is another story.  One night I woke up with a start at 2 AM asking myself – ‘Did I move the Elf?’ I got up and it was not in the place it was the prior day or in the place I thought I  might have moved it. Now, it’s the middle of the night and I am searching for the Elf on the Shelf – finally I see that the cat has dragged the Elf behind the couch! Yeah. I love the Elf – when he stays on the shelf.”

Solution to The Elf on The Shelf and Parental Anxiety

One couple started arguing over who was going to move the Elf on the Shelf each night. This went on for a while until they landed upon a creative idea. They decided that if the little Elf broke his foot and had a little cast on it – he would have to stay in the same place but would magically send his messages to Santa without having to make the trip to the North Pole- every night!  End of fighting but not sure how much Santa bought this solution.

Wait a Minute… Look at All Those Elves

One Grandpa who finally had a chance to visit his two little grandchildren, ages four and six, before Christmas decided to take them to a big outlet store to buy a few toys from him. There they were in the store when they turned into an aisle filled with  Elf’s on the Shelf of very conceivable size! They all stood and stared. The kids immediately said, “ Grandpa, let’s buy more Elf’s.”

Not knowing what to do, he said “ I don’t think you are supposed to have more than one.”

“ Don’t worry Grandpa… These are fake, the one at home is real!”

( They passed on the fake elves).

We All Need Magic

To me, the real benefit to children of “The Elf on the Shelf” has little to do with the report of naughty or nice and much more with the belief in magic.

The thrill of seeing the Elf on The Shelf in a new spot every morning is akin to the “awe” adults feel and report when they view the Grand Canyon, watch a sunrise, or hold their newborn.  It is being in touch with something that transcends our understanding. It is something emotionally and physiologically transformative. Something that research finds has the potential to “promotes altruism, loving-kindness, and magnanimous behavior.”

In a world that is too often not so easy, we need those Elves on the Shelves, those little ones who believe in them and those parent helpers who add to the magic every night.

What is your Elf on the Shelf Story? Please send it as a comment so we can share the magic –Merry Christmas -Suzanne