When my kids were barely more than toddlers, a family member gave us a present. It was a gift set keepsake box: a Christmas-themed book and accompanying figure. The book was cute—nice watercolor illustrations, fun story—but the stuffed, footless, plastic-headed toy looked like a creepy doll from the 1940s. We all now know him as the Elf on the Shelf.
The kids, inexplicably, named ours Keeko. At the time, I had no idea it was becoming a worldwide phenomenon. I just thought it was a fun idea, albeit a tad disturbing. Now almost everyone we know has their very own elf, with names like Jingles and Ralphie, and it’s a tradition that kids love (despite the pretense that he is used to manipulate them into good behavior)—and one that parents torture themselves with each year.
Come to find out, the story was originally written and self-published in 2004 by a stay-home mother and her two adult daughters, based on her own family tradition growing up in the 1970’s. After several years of self-promotion, it won numerous awards for best toy and book of the year. The Elf himself (giant and inflatable) appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2012, skyrocketing the book to the #1 spot on the USA Today Bestseller’s List the following year.
The doll was closely modeled after the “Knee-Hugger Elves” and/or “Pixie Elves”, interestingly from 1960s US-occupied Japan. The modern-day elf, much like its predecessor, has an mishchievous expression on its plastic head and lightweight felt body, making him easy to set him up wherever you so choose. (I will say, however, a little wire would have been a nice addition for posing him.) Some parents really take it to the next level, having him get into all sorts of imaginary trouble with the most elaborate set-ups, but I’m lucky if I remember to move him at all.
The elf is essentially a delightful parental crutch, used to threaten children who behave badly. He or she allegedly sits around and spies on the kids, then flies home to report to Santa each night. When he returns the next morning, he sits (or hides) in a new spot—IF parents remember to move him. If not, we say “he really must like that spot”, or “he doesn’t go to the North Pole if there was nothing good to report”, or “the weather must have made travel difficult”.
The daily search to see where Keeko ends up is what my kids seem to enjoy the most, and it’s helpful getting them out of bed in the morning. Sometimes they talk to him, mostly about their Christmas list, expectant that he will relay the messages to Santa. Or ask him if he knows their friend’s elf. All the kids and their friends are abuzz with talk of their elves: when they appeared, if they brought gifts or wrote notes. I might have to step up my game. According to the kids’ friends, their elves came earlier than our own. My son insisted that Keeko would appear as soon as we put up the Christmas tree, and dragged our fake tree out of the crawlspace to set it up himself.
And what do you know…it worked. We had our tree up on November 27th, before we had even recovered from Thanksgiving. But Keeko was there the next morning.
TBD on whether or not the surveillance/behavior-modification will be as effective.