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Making room for the little things


FAMILY MATTERS December 2021


Baby Jesus is unequivocally the most important pint-sized wonder of the Christmas season, but there is a second diminutive creature sent to us from a higher power whose coming is also shrouded in mystery. And that, my friends, is the gosh darn Elf on the Shelf.

My household managed to go without an Elf on the Shelf for the first six years of my oldest daughter’s life. I spent those six glorious Yuletide seasons as a blissful observer of all the parental woes that come along with taking ownership of the often-cursed elf. Elves that forgot to move “themselves” overnight, discovered in the same spot as the day before by horror[1]stricken children. Elves chewed to bits by the family dog. Elves touched by little hands, a cardinal sin in Elf on the Shelf-dom, which comes with the catastrophic consequence of the elf being unable to perform his or her nightly teleportation back to the North Pole to give Santa the daily behavior report.

I stood my ground for quite some time, remaining righteous and resolute that a silly, overpriced doll made of a glorified piece of felt and some plastic would never come to define Christmas in my house. The magic of Christmas, after all, exists in the birth of Christ himself to a virgin teenager; most certainly not from a frankly creepy little elf who comes to life to terrorize your house after the humans are all fast asleep.  A little person who makes messes and gets into mischief? Nope. I already have two of those.

But then came the fateful day that my sweet first-grader, who typically asks for very little, arrived home from school one afternoon in early December of last year on the verge of tears. When I asked her what could possibly be wrong, she replied in a quaking voice with a trembling lip that she was beginning to think that she was just a bad kid. She explained that year to year, no matter how many “E’s for Excellent” she earned on her report card, or how often she made her bed without being asked, or how hard she practiced piano, her very own Elf on the Shelf still had not arrived to her house. By her estimation, every single one of her friends had their own personal elf.

She went on to say that pretty much all any kid could talk about at the lunch table was the antics-du-jour of their elves. Sneaky little Sugarplum who was discovered swinging from a dental floss zipline strung across the living room. Mischievous Mistletoe who, to little Susie’s surprise, was caught roasting tiny marshmallows on a toothpick over her family’s Fraser-fir scented candle. And Naughty Noel who was found in quite the compromising position, holding a crumpled square of toilet paper and sitting atop the family’s potty full of tell-tale miniature chocolate chips. These parents need to lay off the extra-shot peppermint mochas, I thought (although I had to admit that the chocolate chip thing was pretty funny). I channeled my best Ebenezer Scrooge and reasoned to myself that I couldn’t possibly add one more thing to my holiday list. I silently cursed every sucker of a mom and dad who’d fallen victim to the commercialization of Christmas and agreed to welcome an elf on their shelves. Bah humbug. And then, I begrudgingly googled “Where to buy an Elf of the Shelf”. In the name of childhood wonderment, I caved. On my very first evening of elf responsibility, I carefully perched the little girl elf on one of the sturdier branches of our Christmas tree, positioned her tiny arms and legs into the most adorable of positions, and gave the branch a little flick to make sure she was nice and secure. I stepped back, surveyed my handiwork and then went to bed, quite pleased with myself and anxious to awake the next morning to wait for the moment that one of my children would notice the existence of their very own elf.

And how, might you ask, did my daughter discover her long-awaited elf? Lying on its side in the middle of our hardwood floor, the victim of an apparent overnight tumble from the top of the Christmas tree. I froze in horror, hoping that the look of pure disappointment on my face would not ruin this pivotal moment for my 6-year-old.

“MOM!” she gleefully exclaimed without pause, “LOOK! My elf is here! She’s finally here! And she was so tired from coming from the North Pole that she fell asleep under the Christmas tree!”

And that, readers, is how children see Christmas. How we all should see Christmas. The most special of seasons spent anticipating the coming of something wonderful. I’m glad that I made room in our household for a tiny little thing meant to bring great joy to all who believe.

Claire Mullen can be reached at clairejlmullen@gmail.com.