It’s my favorite time of year. I love the shiny decorations, the festive clothing, the yummy treats, and even the made-for-television Christmas movies. I love the excitement and wonder of the season. When the Advent season (anticipated coming of Jesus) begins, I enjoy seeing the beautifully decorated trees posted on social media, and I even enjoy observing the funny adventures of the Elf on the Shelf.
While the the Elf on the Shelf is a cute idea, and very clever for parents who desperately want their children to behave during the holiday season, I have some concerns about the Elf’s popularity in Christian households. Don’t get me wrong. The Elf is cute. We even have one. But this is the big difference between the Elf at our house and the Elf in the homes of others.
This is how the Elf on the Shelf concept works: The Elf is not to be touched. Children are told that he watches how good or bad they are and that he reports what he sees to Santa while the children are asleep. Each morning, the Elf shows up in a new location (and the photos are splattered on social media) to remind the children that he watched, flew to the North Pole, reported to Santa, and returned for another day of work. There are movies about the Elf and s/he even has specialty clothes (for only $9.99…which, of course, are sold separately).
The concept is cute. It reminds children to be good throughout the Advent season and evidently creates quite a bit of fun (and opportunities-or stress- for parents to exhibit creativity and a nightly Elf to-do list). I have seen photos of the Elf on a toilet, on a date with Barbie, lying in the middle of a sprinkle angel (rather than a snow angel) on a counter top, and surrounded by other such messes that s/he supposedly made. But this is the problem: the focus turns from the real reason we celebrate Christmas (the birth of Jesus) to an imaginary tale for children (and parents alike).
Rarely do I see photos of nativity sets, videos of families reading the story of Jesus’s birth to children, or do I hear children talk about why we celebrate Christmas. The focus has shifted from Jesus Christ, the Messiah (for whom the holiday was named Christmas) to the Elf on the Shelf, Santa Claus, and other fun aspects of Christmas. While fun can (and should) be had throughout the season, it is the responsibility of parents to teach their children why we celebrate Christmas. This is difficult to do when so much emphasis has been placed on the Elf and taken off of Jesus.
So, what can we do about this? In our home, the Elf is a toy, just like any other toy. He can go on adventures (just like Barbies and Transformers can), but he is not magic nor does he travel to the North Pole to report how good or bad our children were. In our home, we are Christians, which means that we believe God does the watching (and not with the intent to catch us being bad). God is with us at all times (and doesn’t need anyone to report for Him).
In our home, the focus of Christmas is on the birth of Jesus. We often ask our children, “Why do we celebrate Christmas?” and they respond, “Because it’s Jesus’s birthday!” They even speak aloud during Christmas movies, when the actors say (fill in the blank with: Family, Giving, Love, etc.) “__________ is what Christmas is all about,” to say that Christmas is Jesus’s birthday.
In our home, we have many nativity sets. As we set them up, we have the children recount the story of Jesus’s birth. Watch this video of our daughter as she sets up the nativity set.: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=674581039228347&set=vb.100000293704343&type=2&theater. We place the nativity sets in prominent places to show that our focus is on Jesus.
In our home, we read the Christmas stories (at the beginning of Matthew and Luke) before we open gifts on Christmas Day.
Christian parents and grandparents, it’s time to place the focus of Christmas on Jesus. Who wins at your home: The Elf on the Shelf or Jesus? Do your Christmas celebrations include mini-lessons and conversations about Jesus’s birthday? If not, it’s not too late! You still have nine days until Christmas Day, and there are twelves more days to celebrate (prior to Epiphany, when we commemorate the arrival of the Magi) after Christmas.
For another great blog related to this topic see http://davidwpendergrass.blogspot.com/2012/12/a-christian-view-of-santa.html.