It should come as no surprise to those of you who know me personally that I think the Elf on the Shelf tradition is yet another silly marketing ploy intended to dupe well-intended parents feel like they are providing a magical Christmas experience for their children. The doll is even made to look vintage, as if this $30 must-have snitch was a treasured part of Christmas yesteryear. It’s not.
Elf on the Shelf started in 2005.
Perhaps my biggest beef with the whole EotS production is the same beef I have with Santa myth in general. Namely:
1. Be good, so someone will give you stuff.
2. Parents lying to children. Elaborately. Extendedly.
3. Christmas is about getting.
4. It is hyped by the media/culture because it gets you to spend more money.
Altruism, a Lost Art
I cringe to parents chiding their children, “Don’t hit your sister! Santa is watching!” as if being kind was only worth it because you’ll get more or better presents. I feel the same way about this mindset as I do with grades, gold stars, merit badges, trophies for every participant…And we wonder why we have a problem with altruism in our society. Our “pat me on the back” society raises children who can’t tell if they are successful or not because they gauge success on extrinsic validation and/or only take on tasks in a “what’s in it for me” way.
Our culture needs a healthy slice of Emerson’s profoundly simple statement:
“The reward of a thing well done is having done it.”
(May I add “a thing” should not be limited to creating, developing skills or completing tasks but also in being generous and kind, which are their own rewards.)
Rewarding kids for what they should be doing anyway just teaches them that it isn’t worth doing in and of itself. The research is there. Rewards reduce intrinsic motivation. So, if you are carrying on the Santa myth for the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas-good-behavior streak, you’re not doing yourself or your children any favors.
Calling Out Santa
I know all you Santa-lovers in the audience are going to call me out for being a spoil sport; it is all in “good fun” and bah humbug on me for taking away a small window of opportunity for a person to “be a child” and experience the magic of Christmas. This is also bull feces. There are ways you can have fun with your kids without Santa of his SS.
Fact: my husband’s most magical memory of Christmas is anonymously delivering Christmas gifts to a family who needed some cheer.
I knew a young widow who didn’t “do Santa” because, in her words, “I am a single mom and I have to work really hard to provide for my family. I wanted my kids to know the presents they got were from me and that I worked hard to give them something because I love them. I didn’t want them believing it was from a stranger.” With Santa, the sacrifice for many parents is wholly real but the gratitude from the children is superficial, since they are directing it at a imaginary person they will discover much later was actually you. (oh and that you lied to them for, eh, a decade?)
You can make magical moments without the man at the North Pole or his nark.
So why do so many feel compelled to carry on a time consuming, useless 8 year old tradition like EotS? or even the Santa tradition who no one really knows when it started to be an “essential” childhood tradition.
Parents cave. They don’t want to be the “only one” who doesn’t do EotS for their kids. Guess what? This is the same reason your kids will want to do/buy/try things you know are bad for them. If you the parent can’t cope with peer pressure there is a good chance your kids won’t either. You can choose not to do EotS if anything to teach your children not to (as I call it) “chase every squirrel”.
We know what kids really want. You. Time and time again, survey after survey, study after study: reading, singing, being outside, playing, talking, cooking, eating together. I have yet to find a study where the benefits of Santa/EotS seem worth your precious time in comparison to other worthy activities.
Aside from the creepy Big Brother-esque feel of lil’ Elfie, I hate to see parents add another useless “tradition” to keep up with the Joneses, expending precious resources of time, money and energy all during the busiest month of the year. Your time is better spent actually with your child than staying up late spilling flour/sugar/shaving cream/marshmallows over the floor only to wake and have to clean it. That is why I’m grumpy about it.
Most parents do it because they feel it is a way to express love to their children. I promise you, there are much better ways to expend yourself. Your children, as adults, will not be maladjusted to this world because you didn’t spend your free time playing with their dolls as they slept.
This rant provided by Leah Sidwell.