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I’m of two minds about the elf on the shelf. My first mind says “There is something wrong with manipulating children into being good for roughly 25 days by giving them an imaginary elf who tattle-tales on them to another imaginary elf and the amount of “gifts” they receive is contingent on an arbitrary evaluation of their behavior.” (That particular mind is long-winded.)

My other mind says, “Lighten up. Its a cute holiday tradition. Don’t over analyze it. Just have fun watching your kids. Besides Curmudgeonly McCurmudgeonson over there (points to first mind) will just get you in hot water with a lot of stay-at-home moms who need all the help they can get keeping their children from bringing the house down around their ears. An imaginary elf who makes the kiddies act just a bit nicer during the silly season is not a bad thing.”

Yeah but . . . Come on . . . that elf is creepy in a “I’m-Chucky-And-I’m-Going-to-Get-You” sort of way. Hey wait a minute, who are you? Me? I’m his third mind. I usually stay quiet. Its better for everyone.

If you are unfamiliar with this new wrinkle on Christmas then let me explain. You can buy the Elf on the Shelf which comes with a colorful book.  Then the “magic” starts:

In the back of each book, families have an opportunity to write their elf’s name and the date that they adopted it. Once the elf is named, the scout elf receives its special Christmas magic which allows it to fly to and from the North Pole. However, the magic might go if touched, so the rule for The Elf on the Shelf states: “There’s only one rule that you have to follow so I will come back and be here tomorrow: Please do not touch me. My magic might go, and Santa won’t hear all I’ve seen or I know.” Although families aren’t supposed to touch their scout elf, they can talk to it and tell it all their Christmas wishes so it can report back to Santa accurately.

Sometimes when it comes to Santa Claus and now the Elf on the Shelf I feel abit like King Ahab of Israel when he sees Elijah the prophet coming.

When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?”

The elf is troublesome for some of the same reasons Santa is troublesome. It presents to us a dilemma. Here’s Last year’s post about Santa:

Santa presents a dilemma for Christians. If we reject Santa all together our children’s friends and acquaintances will almost certainly not. Then parents start looking like another imaginary figure from holiday lore–the Grinch. On the other hand, if we embrace Santa we have a whole different set of problems. First, we seem to deceive our children for a few years about a man who lives at the north pole and defies the laws of physics every Christmas eve. Then one day, the magic fades and we make cynics of our kids. Perhaps they begin to wonder is there anything else we blindly believe in that makes us happy but ultimately is a myth. In other words, we run the risk of creating not just cynics but hard core skeptics about anything they can’t see.

But that fun part of my mind still thinks: “Oh pshaw, the kids know the elf isn’t real. You brought it home from Target after all! You don’t give kids enough credit. It’s just a fun holiday game.” Then I read this from one of those stay-at-home moms:

Do you really want to teach your children that the eye-in-the-sky is watching them and Christmas is all about whether it sees them do good things or bad things? Do you want their motivation for being good to be the promise of presents or the fear of less presents? Have any one of us ever given our child a lump of coal? You know their behavior will not affect your list or it certainly shouldn’t. Gifts are unconditional. That is why they are called gifts, not rewards or wages.  Teach them this biblical economy and you are sharing the unconditional love of God. It’s really beautiful when you think about it.

Maybe that’s what irks me about the troublesome elf. Maybe its because far far too many people think that getting into heaven is like getting presents on Christmas day: If you are good you get them and if you are bad you get something bad. Its what’s so fundamentally wrong with this little meme making the rounds on Facebook:

The lettering like the sentiment is a bit unclear but the gist is that if you threatened to torture and burn your child if they didn’t agree with you, we should consider that child abuse (or at least the threat of abuse). However, saying “IF you disobey me again, God will take you underground and burn and torture you,” is apparently not abuse. There are so many things wrong with this analogy, its hard to know where to start. But one thing is for certain. The idea is “tit for tat” God is just bigger than we are and he sets the rules. IF you are naughty you get torture. If you are nice, you don’t. There is no room for grace at all. Replace “torture” with “less presents” and you get the idea. Come to think of it, maybe Atheists and Christians might be able to agree that the Elf on the Shelf might be teaching a bad worldview. So help me sort this out: Is the Elf on the Shelf harmless holiday fun or is it really just manipulative and creepy? All three of my minds look forward to your comments.

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