It happened three weeks before Christmas. My husband and I dashed into Bed, Bath, and Infinity to find a _____ [details deleted to ensure my 30-something daughter is ecstatically surprised by the gift we bought there] and were confronted by one of those pre-holiday displays that makes you go – Huh?
It was the Elf on the Shelf, and boy, was he ready for his 2015 month of mania. Perhaps this is old news to you, but this guy now has a complete, and I mean no-fashion-left-behind, wardrobe. He’s got t-shirts, he’s got jean jackets, he’s got a fuzzy robe, he’s got – a tutu? Okay, that’s cool; one of my favorite little boys prefers pink to blue and carries a princess backpack. But no, my mistake. The Elf is not showing off his LGBTQ enlightenment; there is, apparently, also a Ms. Elf on the Shelf. She probably has a name. Excuse me if I don’t look it up.
While I’m sure this style extravaganza has brought joy to all the lucky children made suddenly aware that an Elf on the Shelf dressed only in his jaunty red felt is as good as naked, my heart goes out to their parents. Not only does this inanimate creature have to move from place to place every single night in December, sparking a cut-throat Pinterest competition where those less-creative moms and dads can either find ideas or bow their heads in shame for not, say, filling the sink with glitter for the Elf to lounge in come December 24th. Now he has to be dressed for the red carpet. I mean, did you see that black puffer jacket? How about the knee-high boots?
Here’s the thing. When I was a kid, we had an elf that looked almost exactly like today’s Elf on the Whatever. His eyelashes were slightly less thick and wavy than today’s model, but other than that, they could be twins. In fact, I still have that elf. I have brought him out every winter, along with the reindeer pillow whose nose lights up if you push his tummy and the stuffed Santa I assembled myself from a pre-printed pattern. All three of them just sit there. On the sofa. Propped against the tree. They are decorations, for Pete’s sake. What’s next, redecorating the tree every night after they go to bed?
My family did not even celebrate that holiday where kids put their shoes out and find them filled with candy in the morning. St. Nicholas Day? Perhaps my finicky folks blanched at the thought of nestling edibles inside footwear. They had enough to worry about with collecting candy and trinkets for the stockings which, I would like to point out, my mother hand-crafted with felt and sequins and a lot of thought. My sister’s said “BONNIE;” mine, “PAMELA.” No one ever called me that, which made the stocking more special. My whole name was on that thing, for the ages.
My parents were so smart, they didn’t even wrap Santa’s presents. Instead, my sister and I woke up Christmas morning, not daring to go down the hallway until we knew everyone was ready. We liked surprises, and confronting an entire living room with all of our gifts right there, undisguised by gift wrap or bags, was enough to take our breath away. Bonnie’s loot was always on the right, mine on the left. We took our time gazing at each item in turn, awestruck by Santa’s brilliance in supplying not only just what we’d wanted but several things we hadn’t even known we would love so much. (Items never seen on TV.)
The fact that mom sewed a passel of toys and stuffed animals for us never fazed us a bit. There were frogs that folded; little dogs with long tails that served as bookmarks; and, a definite high point in the early 60’s, a family of Gonks including Eskimo Gonk. Grandma Gonk, and Beatnik Gonk. These were from Santa, even though we knew darned well our mother made those toys . Her sewing room was off-limits late in the year, but it took me a long time to figure out that must have been not only where she played Santa’s helper, but also stashed my new bike and my sister’s hair dryer.
We wanted to believe, so we did. We did not need some elf doll gallivanting all over the house to spark our sense of wonder. We didn’t even have Advent calendars. And so it never occurred to me, or my first husband (who put together Daniel’s trike and Allison’s Barbie Dream House – sorry, honey; it’s time you knew), to do anything more than the main event. This whole elf thing is a shock. I was too busy baking cookies, cooking fudge, sewing presents (for a while, anyway, trying to emulate my mother), encrusting the tree with lights and ornaments, and reading the books that only came out of boxes once a year.
So if anybody is looking for permission to Just Say No, consider yourself excused. I am hoping my son and his wife, the parents of my perfect twin granddaughters, will lighten the load today’s parents are putting on themselves. For me, it began when my kids reached grade school, cutting back to only five kinds of cookies, and signing the presents from Santa just “S” rather than imaginary North Pole script. No traveling elf in tuxedo or bow tie.
The best doll clothes I ever had were made by hand by my Aunt Dorothy, owner of a doll hospital in Ohio. I put them on my one and only Barbie myself. I talked for her. I moved her around. And you know what? For my friends and me, that was holiday magic enough.