By Kris Woll
If left up to me, the elf on our doorknob would just hang there all season.
I hate him.
Ok, those are strong words.
But I don’t like him very much.
Or maybe we are just not a good fit for each other.
And also he’s not currently on a shelf, as you can see.
I hate him because we have to move him around every night. Because we have to prove that he left while we slept, that he headed up to Santa to report on our day’s behavior. He’s added one more thing to my never-completed to do list—a list that only grows longer over the holidays—and frankly the whole arrangement is a little creepy.
Somehow, when I was a kid, Santa knew what we were up to without sending a spy. Probably because my mom called him from the kitchen each year in early December to give him an update while my sister and I sat on the couch crafting our wish lists from the back of the JCPenney Christmas catalog. I was always impressed by her direct line to North Pole and didn’t doubt that she would have his phone number. My mom had pull. And she didn’t need to shift a single decoration to drive home the point: Santa was watching, knew when we were sleeping, knew when we were awake. It’s so like us modern parents to make everything more complicated. Isn’t it enough to put up a tree and hang a few stockings and make a few cookies and DVR Charlie Brown so the kids have something to watch while we fold the laundry?
There are already many things I do not do well. Ironing, for example. And making homemade cut-out cookies. And flossing with a regularity expected by my hygienist. And other things I don’t want to admit to you because we don’t know each other well and I want you to like me. Why add a sort of scary, stiff doll to the list?
Why? Because my kids—my 7-year-old and my 3-year-old—expect it. Because it seemed cute the first year and now, as the first stack of unsolicited holiday catalogs from retailers I never buy from arrive in our mailbox, the kids ask for him. And keep asking—even when I try to distract them with chocolate-filled Advent calendars (a tradition from my husband’s family)—and start sharing stories about the elves on their friends’ shelves.
Today, as I paid for my haircut, the nice cashier even asked me about him. Did you get your Elf on the Shelf out yet? She asked as if it’s a real thing that everyone, everywhere does this time of year, like sending cards or overeating.
I started this thing and now I can’t find my way out.
If left up to me, the elf on our doorknob would just hang there all season. When pressed, I’d come up with some story about how he broke, or could just relay reports to Santa through thought. These ideas seem no less plausible than the “real” story.
But it is not left up to me, and so the elf will move tonight just like he did last night and just like his companion book says he will continue to do right up to Christmas Eve, because while I’m falling asleep at 8:00 p.m. next to the kids or writing a blog post to complain about the elf’s existence, my husband will plop him on top of the stereo or in a planter or on top of the unread magazines. And in the morning the kids will be excited to find the elf in his new place, and though I’ll smile and say “Cool!” while I turn on a Rat Pack Christmas album and water the tree, I’ll feel sort of bad about both complaining and not taking a more active role in this new and oppressive tradition.
Which just makes me hate that elf even more.
Kris Woll is a Minneapolis-based writer. Read more of her work at kriswollwriting.com.