How Elf on the Shelf turned me into a raving liar

Last year at the end of the holiday season, I got an Elf on the Shelf.

I was late to the game, but the tradition, introduced in 2005, seemed so popular with kids, I figured we would have a few years of fun. I was wrong. My kid isn’t buying it.

The Elf on the Shelf kit comes with a storybook and small stuffed Elf who watches over kids from perches around your home and lets Santa know who is being naughty or nice. And we know what happens if Santa thinks you’re being naughty.

Depending on how you view it, it’s a fun game or a sneaky, underhanded tool to keep your kids in line. While parents debate the pros and cons of Elf on the Shelf, share innovative ways to hide the rascal and create naughty Elf memes on the internet, Elf mania just isn’t happening in my house.

After trimming the tree, we settled down to read the storybook detailing how our elf would come to life at night and report back to Santa on the behavioral happenings in our home.

“Actually, she can’t do that,” said my 5-year old daughter who had decided her elf was a female named “Sammie.”

“Can’t do what?” I said.

“She can’t move. She can’t talk. She can’t report anything to Santa. She’s just a toy,” she said.


She looks innocent and sweet, but this little devil of an elf has turned me into a raving liar.

This is where it got ugly. I should have smiled and moved on, but instead, I lied. I made up a big, fat, elaborate lie about the darn elf. It went something like this: “You’re right, sweetie. She is a toy. She can’t really talk, but she’s a representation of the actual elves we can’t see who really do report back to Santa,” I said. “You understand?”

She looked at me like I was nuts. And at that point, I was. I’m pretty sure I had veered far away from the original premise of Elf on the Shelf, but I was frantic. How could she not believe?

I had followed all the instructions. Twitter told me it was #ScoutElfReturnWeek (Nov. 27 – Dec. 4) so we were right on time. Maybe we needed to watch “An Elf’s Story” for reinforcement?

You know how it is when your mind is racing and you are talking and you know you are going in the wrong direction, but you just can’t stop? That was me. And honestly, I don’t know why I was trying so hard to sell her on a tradition we hadn’t even started.

Maybe it was because she had asked me just a few days before if Santa Claus was real. WHAT? I didn’t stop believing in Santa Claus until well into grade school when my older sister showed me the cabinet where our parents hid the gifts.

I still remember my heart pounding and heat rising from my chest when I saw every last item on my list in the dark hole above the freezer. My daughter has no siblings to kill the dream, so where was this Santa/elf doubting coming from?

We had tried Switch Witch – an Elf on the Shelf like spinoff for Halloween – who visits your home Halloween night and trades candy for a special toy. Somehow that worked, but she prefers toys over candy, so that was an easy sell.

I tried again with the elf business. I told her she could sleep with the elf that night and maybe Sammie would come to life and reveal all the elf secrets at midnight.

Seriously? Did I say that? Didn’t I totally contradict my previous lie? This is what happens when you start lying. You can’t keep them straight.

The next day, my daughter tells me “Elfie” — who had apparently been renamed overnight — had nothing to share. She headed off to the Falcons vs. Vikings game with her dad, taking Elfie along with her. She must have dropped Elfie somewhere in the Georgia Dome because the thing came back with dingy white hands and mysterious stains on her back. And we won’t even talk about how that totally violated the don’t-touch-the-elf-ever rule.

At bedtime, I moved Elfie from the kitchen counter to the top of the Kleenex box. During breakfast, my daughter shouted, “Look, Elfie moved! Did you move her?”

“No, I thought you did!” I said, not believing that I was telling another lie.

“Hmm,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “I think my Dad must have put her there.”


I should call it quits, but I can’t let go. Last night, I hung the elf over the top of her Christmas stocking.

So far, she hasn’t noticed a thing.

Reader Comments 0


Oh, Nedra ... Your story made me laugh out loud. So funny and so typical of what we go through as parents. Your daughter is lucky to have you as her mom.


I would not feel bad about not doing it.  When that first came out, my son was about 5.  He told me the one thing he wanted for Christmas was an Elf on the Shelf.   An Elf on the What??  I had never heard of it.   What kind of sadistic person came up with one more thing I have to do at the holidays???  It was crunch time, so I sent my husband on an exhaustive search.  Every store was sold out.  In a moment of desperation, I sent him to the craft store and had him get green, brown, and red felt squares.  I stayed up late sewing an elf and dressing him in the felt.  I put him prominently on the shelf, so my son would see it in the morning.  He was a bit confused when he saw it, claiming it was like no elf he'd ever seen before :).  That stupid elf is still one of my favorite decorations.


Cute story. I miss my daughter being this age.


Sorry parents of today but having this thing spy on your little children causes them undo stress. Little children tiptoeing around knowing this thing is there watching them putting fear in them in everything they do is nothing that any parent should ever do to their child. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.


@BonnieAkridge Bah, humbug! It all depends on the child. Nedra, it sounds like your daughter is a little more hesitantly skeptical than playfully curious. So Elf on the Shelf may be a little too stressful for her to wrap her brain around. We have a two year old and opted just to stick with "Santa Claus brings you presents on Christmas." I doubt we'll do Elf on the Shelf because I'd rather her enjoy the simplicity of Santa Claus without any elfin messengers.

I'm no psychiatrist, but when a child starts to ask serious questions that are their way of asking you to be honest with them, that's the time to ditch the fun facade and be real with them.

It’s parents who keep harping on Santa being real long beyond their children wanting honesty who give the ones of us who just want to give our kids a little innocent fun a bad name. When the time comes we should lift the veil proudly and tell them it wasn’t Santa Claus who gave them stuff. It was us all along. Then use that moment to teach them how they can be cheerful givers like “Santa Claus.”


Comment next year when you have your own children and quit trying to raise ours.