Blast From the Past

Blast From The Past: Keep Your Elves To Yourselves

The boys are still asking for elves, and I’m still not budging.  Here’s the column from December 2005:


Throughout the year, we parents go to elaborate lengths to ensure that our children believe in magical beings. We enable Santa to visit. We make it possible for the Easter Bunny to leave jelly beans and chocolate eggs. We’re aware of the Tooth Fairy’s duties, and although she doesn’t always perform them perfectly at our house, teeth have been exchanged for quarters and dollars fairly regularly. Over the years, our children have gotten a nice dose of fantasy and we have kept our sanity.

Until now.

The talk of elves started slowly. “Some people have their very own elves,” Drew remarked in the car one day.

Several weeks later he mused, “If I had my very own elf, I’d ask him to bring me a horse and a saddle so I could ride my horse to school.”

In the last month, the talk of elves increased exponentially. Apparently elf-owners at school were bragging about their creatures. Drew quickly decided that he wanted one, too. He talked about it nonstop while I nodded absentmindedly, the way I do when he says, “For Christmas, I want thirteen gazillion dollars, a real submarine and a stuffed pig.”

I was forced to confront the issue one afternoon when I came into the den and saw Drew and Porter at the coffee table, busily writing. Later they were at the fireplace, setting up a shrine. They’d put out crackers, water, candy, and two notes.

“We’re getting ready to get our elves,” Drew said excitedly. I peered at the letters.

Porter’s read: Dear santa can I plese have a elf. Love, Porter

Drew’s was a little more eloquent: Dear Santa i wunt a elf. I will take carr of it love Drew I Love You santa!!!

“Boys, Santa doesn’t come for three more weeks,” I said. “Those crackers are going to get really raunchy by the time he comes down the chimney and sees them.”

“No, Santa comes by before Christmas and drops off elves to people who want one for just a little while,” Porter said.

“Then he takes them home with him when he comes back on Christmas,”
Drew explained. “I think he’ll come tonight since we put out these crackers and Nerds. Santa will leave us an elf and then get him later.”

I called up Chatty Mom to find out what was up with the elves.

“Oh, God,” she said. “Are your boys talking about elves, too? It’s the damnedest thing.”

“You’ve got to tell me what is going on,” I said. “Are parents involved in this?”

“Oh yes,” she said. “The parents are encouraging it! Here’s how it goes. The parents buy a cheap stuffed toy elf, which the kids think is real. The kids are convinced the elves move and eat when no one is watching.”

“So what’s the point?” I asked. I could see buying a cheap green toy if it was just going to sit there, especially if it would stop Drew’s incessant elf talk.

“That’s where it gets nuts,” Chatty Mom said. “The story is that the elves do two things. First of all, they bring the kids presents just out of the blue.”

“What kind of presents?” I asked cautiously.

“It can be anything. Most people do something small, like a toy or some candy, but I heard that one kid’s elf brought a set of bunk beds,” Chatty Mom said. “I mean, have you ever heard of such?”

“No, especially not so close to Christmas,” I said. “What am I, made of money?”

“Well, there’s more, and it’s worse,” Chatty Mom continued. “The presents from the elves are the least of it. The other thing the elves do is mess up the house.”

“So the kids have someone to blame when their rooms are messy?” I asked.

“No, no no!” Chatty Mom said. “It has nothing to do with the messes that are already in your house everyday. The elves make mischievous types of messes on top of all the shit that your boys normally generate during the course of a day.”

“Like what?” I asked, puzzled.

“Like one elf took all the socks from everyone’s drawers in the whole family and tossed them around the den. Another elf stole the toilet paper and rolled the Christmas tree.”

I was astounded. “And you are telling me that there are parents out there purposely creating extra messes, of their own volition, to make their children believe in elves?” I asked incredulously.

“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Chatty Mom said. “But you probably ought to call someone across town and see what the story is over there. I think elves are a much bigger deal at the other elementary schools. And maybe call someone with girls. Maybe girls aren’t as messy as boys, so the idea isn’t as nutty for them.”

I was mystified as to why anyone would dream up a scheme with so many downsides, and no redeeming value that I could see. Clearly the matter needed further investigation, so I called up The Voice of Reason. Her kids go to a different elementary school, and she has a girl Finn’s age, a boy the twins’ age, and a younger girl.

“Oh, we know all about the elves,” she said. “Some people go overboard with the concept, but we don’t do that at our house. We started because I like the kids to have new matching pajamas for Christmas so they look good in pictures on Christmas morning. Then, even though their hair is all ratty and everything, you don’t really notice because they all match and look festive.”

“That is so something your mother would do,” I commented.

“I know,” The Voice admitted. “Anyway, when the elf thing got popular, I just went out and bought a couple of cheap place card holders shaped like elves and set them by the pajamas the next year, and the kids went nuts. Now they can’t wait for the elves to come. They come out the first Sunday of Advent and they disappear on Christmas. It’s really sweet to see them making beds for their elves.”

“I can’t see my boys wearing matching Christmas pajamas for more than one second, so I really can’t see the benefit of introducing elves to the Glamore house,” I said. “What else do they do?”

“Nothing much,” The Voice said. “They just magically move around. Like you might have left your elf on your bed when you left for school, but when you get home and open the refrigerator to get a snack, he might be sitting on the shelf next to the milk.”

“So you have to be moving the elves around all day?” I asked skeptically.

“Yes, but it’s no big deal. You take the dirty clothes to the washer, grab an elf and stick him on the piano.”

“That’s no biggie for you, but we have a hard time keeping up with the tooth fairy here,” I commented.

“I was just remembering that,” The Voice said. “Maybe you aren’t cut out for elves. I mean, it’s touching to see your kids carrying around the elves and getting excited when they magically move from one spot to the other, but no one wants an elf that just sits there.”

“That’s probably what would happen in our house,” I agreed. “Does your elf mess up the house?”

“Absolutely not!” The Voice responded. “I have heard of elves who do, and I think that is extremely counterproductive. Ours just bring pj’s, travel around the house a little, then disappear. I keep them in my underwear drawer during the year because that’s the only place I’ll be sure to see them and remember that elves are supposed to come out at Christmas time.”

When I hung up, I felt defeated. On one hand, The Voice is right. Children are young for only a short time, and believing in magic is an important part of childhood. Once that belief is gone, it’s gone forever.

On the other hand, I’ve turned out fine, and I never carried an elf around and waited for it to move from one spot to the other. Santa was enough for me.

I spent the day thinking up ways to break it to the twins that we would not be getting any elves. I finally decided to tell them that I was allergic to elves, and they’d have to choose between a mother for life or an elf for two weeks. I hoped they’d choose prudently.

As it happened, I was spared the talk.

Porter and Drew rushed in from school and ran to the pantry to grab a snack. “Guess what?” Drew said, with a mouthful of graham cracker crumbs.

“I can’t possibly guess,” I said truthfully.

“We’re going to tell Santa that we don’t want an elf. Anna’s elf took all her toys out of her closet and her mom made her clean them up. That elf was trouble,” Drew said.

“Yeah, some elves are bad elves. They are,” Porter added. “And you might set the table and then the elf would mess it all up and that would be bad.”

“And they don’t bring good presents,” Drew said. “Cole only got a Reese’s Cup. I don’t like Reese’s Cups. I only like Nerds.”

“Well, if you’re sure,” I said, faux-reluctantly. “It sure would be cute to have a furry little elf around for a while, but not if he’s going to make you have to do extra work.”

“No, we don’t want one,” Drew said. “We’re going to build a science lab instead. Can we have some bowls and mustard and ketchup? We’re going to make some mixtures.”

“Yes, we’re going to see what colors they turn and if they freeze. We are,” Porter said. “We’re going to be scientists. An elf would probably mess up our experiments.”

And just like that, my boys turned into young Einsteins, merrily mixing condiments, free from interference from wayward elves. I was off the hook.


  • andrea

    This year I’ve been tutoring in a client’s home, which I don’t usually do, and the elf came out a few weeks ago. I saw it on top of the phone and I laughed and laughed, because of just this column. My student, who’s a senior in high school, told me about a time when the elf refused to budge over a few days–he still hasn’t let his mom live that down.

    I’m so glad that I read you, so that when things happen in Tiny Kingdom, I know what’s going on.

  • Erin

    I will never forget the elves. I miss your old posts. Your “real” life needs to spare some time for those of us that rely on you for detailed tales that make us laugh & cry!

  • Bhamdining

    I actually think my 6-year-old would tell me, “Mom, that elf’s not real!” She thinks elves are invisible, so that works out just fine for me.

    Right now my problem is that if she wants something for Christmas and I tell her not to get her hopes up because it’s too expensive, she tells me, “Mom, Santa’s elves MAKE it!” (So obviously expense is not a problem since Santa has cheap and abundant elf labor…)

    Bhamdining’s last blog post..New Review: Ginza

  • Amy

    I know people who are totally regretting on their elves. I like the idea of it but I’m afraid to start and be stuck.

    BTW this: Children are young for only a short time, and believing in magic is an important part of childhood. Once that belief is gone, it’s gone forever.

    could have been lifted straight from my post today – kid you not!

    Amy’s last blog post..Carcolepsy

  • nashvegas

    About 4 or 5 years ago, my son told me that a girl in his Sunday School class informed him that if you leave Santa crackers and water, Santa would bring you an elf. Ever since, I’ve had to look for stuffed elves to leave on the table on Christmas morning. This is the only other place I’ve heard or read anything of the sort. Somehow, we missed the memo that they’re supposed to come out BEFORE Christmas. But my house is messy enough. We sure don’t need elves to help us in that department! Where did this come from, anyway?!

  • Buf

    My sister is doing an elf with her 3 kids. There is only 1 elf for the house and he doesn’t doing anything other move to a different spot each day and keep track of the kids’ behavior and tells Santa what he sees. The kids aren’t allowed to touch the elf either because the elf doesn’t like it. It was cute watching the kids worry about where the elf was and not touching him…lol.

  • jenn

    you know, this probably shouldnt make me mad, but it does. This kid up the road from us has one of these “elves” of course, my kids come running home wanting an elf, because its magic and it moves and brings things..and im like WTF? here I was thinking this was only something these people were doing..the reason it makes me so mad is, this kid is an only child, gets everything he wants, he is rude to his parents and grandparents, demands things, has no manners ect..yet they still get him every single thing he wants..and here I am with two really good boys and I always feel like I have to “keep up with the Jones'” although I dont, It just makes me feel that way..I think enough is enough! Kids need to remember what Christmas is really about anyway!

  • karyn

    Christ on a crutch, I wound up with the Sleep Fairy, the Toilet Fairy, PLUS the Tooth Fairy and Santa and the damn Easter -slash- Passover Bunny, and now I’m going to have to worry about ELVES? ELVES. Is this like that Elf On A Shelf thing? Sweet merciful crap, I am never going to survive this.

    karyn’s last blog post..Ironic

  • Mandy

    The kids came home from school talking about this- to leave out crackers and water, and an elf comes with a little sleeping bag and fake snow. It messes things up at night. I had never heard of such and did a search. Everything talks about a stuffed elf or whatnot, but the kids will just have to settle for an invisible elf. The ‘little sleeping bag’ was the part that troubled me- I supposed the damn elves will just have to sleep in a sock. I, for one, am looking forward to messing things up for the kids to clean! They asked to get an elf, explained the story, and I told them I didn’t mind if they tried so long as they were cleaning up after it.

    And maybe, just maybe, if I make them clean up *enough*, next year they won’t ask! If it were one night, I wouldn’t mind- but apparently this elf is supposed to mess things up from now until Christmas. And guess who told the kids this story?? Their teacher!!

  • Cathy

    Found your site from a sidebar ad @ breedemandweep.

    It kinda sounds like “The Elf on the Shelf” which is a toy elf that comes with a book explaining the tradition. I guess the author wanted to explain to her kids how Santa knew if they were good or bad, and came up with the idea of a spy elf. It’s far less creepy than “He sees you when you’re sleeping!”

    The Elf on the Shelf moves every morning but I don’t think it brings presents. Intriguing how these things spread with kids.

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