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Elf on a Shelf: Express Route to Childhood Trauma

Why, oh why, do parents subject their children to the psychological torture that is the Elf on the Shelf?

The only good elf is a dead elf.

The only good elf is a dead elf.

Chucky Doll, Christmas Edition

The Elf on a Shelf is the one holiday "tradition" I will never, ever, ever understand. It's up there with lutefisk for "Terrible Christmas Ideas," except that the Elf on a Shelf is far more terrible. And unlike lutefisk, it's not even old enough to be a real holiday tradition, despite the word appearing right there in the title.

The book's illustrations and verses are surprisingly mediocre; how it secured a spot alongside beloved holiday classics like The Night Before Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, or even A Wish For Wings That Work is truly a Christmas miracle.

How could any yuletide idea go so wrong, you ask? I'm gonna say money and greed. It's marketed as Pure Holiday Magic: One of Santa's jolly helpers comes into your home to help you stay on the "Nice List," which sounds pretty great, right?

But actually . . . no.

Not only is this elf epically un-Santa-ish, but it is also decidedly monstrous in very human ways: detached, secretive, capricious, and petty.

The Elf arrives in the home; the children are apprehensive.

The Elf arrives in the home; the children are apprehensive.

Those Creepy Eyes

Here's the gist of the Elf on a Shelf phenomenon: You purchase a book/doll set that comes with a vintage-style, spidery-appendaged elf doll with maniacal, shifty eyes. You can even choose between a boy or girl and black or white, but those crazy eyes are always the same. Watching. Judging.

After releasing it from its plastic and paperboard cage (in which it should have been imprisoned forever, like General Zod), children are asked to name their Big Brother. Then mummy or daddums sets little Zart, Criddle, or Foddle someplace where it can psychologically torment its victim.

But wait, it gets creepier!

Parents are supposed to move it to a new spot every night because, you know, the elf flies back to the North Pole every night to document your good or bad behavior with the Big Guy himself. The book even encourages parents to hide the elf in a plant or a picture frame so that kids have to look for it when they wake up . . . because uncertainty and paranoia are the emotions that every kid wants to associate with Christmas.

Also, according to the book, Santa's interpretations of "good" and "bad" are pretty subjective and fickle, so don't just be on your best behavior. Be Jesus.

Oh yeah . . . and don't, under any circumstances, touch that friggin' elf, because then it loses its powers and Santa will punish you.

Jimmy is especially suspicious of their new guest.

Jimmy is especially suspicious of their new guest.

So I Started Thinking, and Came Up With This

Essentially, the book taps into the traditional Northern European view of elves as nasty and vengeful creatures that will ruin your life over the slightest offense. The Elf on a Shelf is like Chuckie, only he's wearing a Santa hat and your parents are on his side.

I don't get the appeal. American parents who practice this tradition must be closet sadists; the same sadists who revel in stealing their kids' Halloween candy so they can get on Jimmy Kimmel.

Elf on a Shelf is essentially a psychological torture device meant to keep kids in line between December 1st and Christmas. I have no idea why kids would ask for it (because I've read that they ask for it), aside from the teacher's pet types that feel they need motivation to be that much better every holiday season.

I would interpret that as major self-esteem issues, but whatever.

I can't think of another Christmas tradition that would make a better horror movie. What do you think: Would Rob Zombie's Elf on a Shelf stream on Netflix or be available on DVD only?

So I started thinking, What would I do if my mom or dad brought home a creepy doll that was meant to spy on me?

I would destroy it. Like these kids did.

© 2016 Carrie Peterson


Carrie Peterson (author) from Colorado Springs, CO on November 17, 2016:

Thanks all!!

Brandon Hart from The Game on November 16, 2016:

Hahaha - Chuckie Doll Christmas Edition

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on November 05, 2016:

Very fun read:-)