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How Elf on the Shelf turned me into a raving liar

Last year at the end of the holiday season, I got an Elf on the Shelf.

I was late to the game, but the tradition, introduced in 2005, seemed so popular with kids, I figured we would have a few years of fun. I was wrong. My kid isn't buying it.

The Elf on the Shelf kit comes with a storybook and small stuffed Elf who watches over kids from perches around your home and lets Santa know who is being naughty or nice. And we know what happens if Santa thinks you’re being naughty.

Depending on how you view it, it’s a fun game or a sneaky, underhanded tool to keep your kids in line. While parents debate the pros and cons of Elf on the Shelf, share innovative ways to hide the rascal and create naughty Elf memes on the internet, Elf mania just isn’t happening in my house.

After trimming the tree, we settled down to read the storybook detailing how our elf would come to life at night and report back to Santa on the behavioral happenings in our home.

“Actually, she can’t do that,” said my 5-year old daughter who had decided her elf was a female named "Sammie."

“Can’t do what?” I said.

“She can’t move. She can’t talk. She can’t report anything to Santa. She’s just a toy,” she said.

This is where it got ugly. I should have smiled and moved on, but instead, I lied. I made up a big, fat, elaborate lie about the darn elf. It went something like this: “You’re right, sweetie. She is a toy. She can’t really talk, but she’s a representation of the actual elves we can’t see who really do report back to Santa,” I said. “You understand?”

She looked at me like I was nuts. And at that point, I was. I’m pretty sure I had veered far away from the original premise of Elf on the Shelf, but I was frantic. How could she not believe?

I had followed all the instructions. Twitter told me it was #ScoutElfReturnWeek (Nov. 27 - Dec. 4) so we were right on time. Maybe we needed to watch "An Elf's Story" for reinforcement?

You know how it is when your mind is racing and you are talking and you know you are going in the wrong direction, but you just can’t stop? That was me. And honestly, I don’t know why I was trying so hard to sell her on a tradition we hadn’t even started.

Maybe it was because she had asked me just a few days before if Santa Claus was real. WHAT? I didn’t stop believing in Santa Claus until well into grade school when my older sister showed me the cabinet where our parents hid the gifts.

I still remember my heart pounding and heat rising from my chest when I saw every last item on my list in the dark hole above the freezer. My daughter has no siblings to kill the dream, so where was this Santa/elf doubting coming from?

We had tried Switch Witch – an Elf on the Shelf like spinoff for Halloween – who visits your home Halloween night and trades candy for a special toy. Somehow that worked, but she prefers toys over candy, so that was an easy sell.

I tried again with the elf business. I told her she could sleep with the elf that night and maybe Sammie would come to life and reveal all the elf secrets at midnight.

Seriously? Did I say that? Didn’t I totally contradict my previous lie? This is what happens when you start lying. You can’t keep them straight.

The next day, my daughter tells me “Elfie” -- who had apparently been renamed overnight -- had nothing to share. She headed off to the Falcons vs. Vikings game with her dad, taking Elfie along with her. She must have dropped Elfie somewhere in the Georgia Dome because the thing came back with dingy white hands and mysterious stains on her back. And we won’t even talk about how that totally violated the don’t-touch-the-elf-ever rule.

At bedtime, I moved Elfie from the kitchen counter to the top of the Kleenex box. During breakfast, my daughter shouted, “Look, Elfie moved! Did you move her?”

“No, I thought you did!” I said, not believing that I was telling another lie.

“Hmm,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “I think my Dad must have put her there."


I should call it quits, but I can’t let go. Last night, I hung the elf over the top of her Christmas stocking.

So far, she hasn’t noticed a thing.

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About the Author

Nedra Rhone has been a features reporter with the AJC for 10 years. She’s written about everything from fashion to food to news.