ELF ON THE SHELF – How not to organise Christmas



When did the celebrating of Christmas become such an elaborate chore? Why is the onus on us as parents to create all the magic? I know I might be at risk as coming across as a Scrooge, but I think it’s about time we sat back, enjoyed a cup of tea and a mince pie, and let the children create their own magic.

If there wasn’t already enough pressure to be the Pinterest perfect Mother – new trends seem to keep popping up on an alarmingly regular basis that ultimately mean lots more work for us parents at an already tremendously busy time of year.

For the last few years, every December, these cute retro looking elf toys keep popping up on my Facebook timeline, all of them up to no good. Each parent has dutifully thought up a creative way for their elf to create havoc around the house for their children to stumble upon in the morning. From the 1st December up until Christmas Day, the Elf creates mischief around the house while also reporting back to Father Christmas on the children’s behaviour.

Nice idea? Yes. Expensive idea, yes, that too. While admittedly you do get bang for your buck, this simple doll retails at two to three times the price of other similar dolls. For this you are basically paying to have the same doll that you see on the rest of your social media feeds. The one that everybody else has. No other doll will do, because all elves have to look the same, right? However, what irks me the most, is the most costly element and that is time.

After bedtime, parents should be rewarding themselves for having kept the kids alive another day, ideally with a large glass of wine – not up to pranks like unwinding reams of loo roll and wrapping it around the Christmas tree. Not only is this a waste of loo roll and time but it also creates extra housework for the next day. Why would anyone choose to do this?

The cynical side of me can’t help but question how much of this new tradition is for the kids, and how much of it is for keeping up with friends online. It’s an unofficial gauntlet thrown into the ring of parenting at Christmas. I know this can’t be the case for all parents, but there is a slight element of keeping up with the Joneses. “Your elf got drunk with Barbie?! Well mine is going to take a joy ride in action man’s tank tonight, ha! My Facebook friends, I mean.. The kids will love it!”the_gibraltar_magazine_december_2016_page_097_image_0002

Whilst Elf on the Shelf bothers me, Christmas Eve boxes confuse me the most. Christmas Eve should be about the anticipation of the next day, not another reason for presents. The examples of Christmas Eve boxes crammed with chocolates, Christmas pyjamas, movies, books, drinks and toys seem to get even bigger and more extravagant every year.  No, I am not going to buy my children Christmas themed pyjamas for Christmas Eve rendering them useless within less than two weeks. They certainly don’t need a personalised trunk for the occasion. My Christmas Eve budget goes towards mulled wine and mince pies and I have no intention of changing that.

My memories of Christmas Eve as a child is eating my mum’s freshly baked sausage rolls while listening to the Kings College choir, greeting my parents friends and making the most of their tipsy state to sneak under the tree and “squeeze and guess the present”. In the evening, we’d watch “The Snowman”, leave out a mince pie and a carrot for Father Christmas and Rudolf, then excitedly chat with my brother Bill in our bunk bed until we fell asleep. My main entertainment would then be watching Bill set up some elaborate and generally ill-conceived booby trap to catch Father Christmas (needless to say, they never worked…)

There was no Elf on the Shelf to make sure we behaved. We had no trunks of goodies on Christmas Eve. We were lucky if the Christmas tree was up much before the 20th. Our advent calendars didn’t contain Lego or toys, and our first opportunity to over indulge in chocolate arrived on Christmas morning when we’d unwrap our Terry’s Chocolate orange. The unofficial staple Christmas breakfast.the_gibraltar_magazine_december_2016_page_097_image_0003

However, my memories of Christmas are completely magical. The wait, preparation and suspense were all part of it. While some could argue that “Elf on the Shelf” is good for the children’s imagination, I’d argue that it is the culmination of a modern way of parenting where parents handhold their children excessively. Boredom is the best catalyst for creativity. We don’t need to do the hard work for them.

Yes, my parents’ Christmas celebrations were not just about us kids, but about friends and family too. What did that teach me? It taught me one of the most important things about Christmas time, it is about the family and community as a whole. Where the “haven’t you grown” comments bored me, I would use my own imagination to entertain myself and transport me to more interesting places.

So next time you feel the urge to indulge the kids in a deluxe calendar, an elf on the shelf or Christmas Eve trunks, take a moment to reflect on your own Christmas celebrations as a child. What is it that you remember best?

While commercial companies would urge us to do otherwise, I think it’s time that we strip Christmas right back. There are so many elements to the Christmas season that already make it hugely exciting; the lights, the music, the Christmas trees, the abundant use of glitter, the food, the fairs, the shows, the parties and get togethers.

Do your kids still find that boring? Great! Let them chisel away into their own resources and find creative ways to celebrate the Christmas period. I bet left to their own devices most children can come up with ideas that would top what can be sold to us in the shops. It is those thoughts and memories that they will cherish over the years.

After all, I couldn’t tell you most of the toys I got in my stocking on Christmas Day over the years, but I can remember my brother setting up those ill-fated booby traps for Father Christmas as if it were yesterday. Those are my magical Christmas memories.