Confessions of a Nonbeliever

Glamourby Lee Ann “Sunny” Brown 


Poor Santa. The competition is getting tough out there. He has managed to hold his own over the centuries against many challengers, including kids’ ever-increasing sophistication and skepticism at younger and younger ages. But he must be really concerned about his newest challenger, because this one even has parents on its side. How else to explain Santa’s Arch Rival, the dreaded Elf on the Shelf? Santa needs a new PR team.

I first became aware of the Elf when my daughter, who was around 7 at the time, came home from school one day and asked me when we were getting our elf. Of course, I looked at her with a completely blank stare, not knowing what in the world she was talking about. I was about to hear the craziest, most bizarre story, one that required me to believe something that sounded absolutely and completely fabricated, something I was sure no sane adult would fall for.

My daughter proceeded to explain that all of her friends had received an elf that lived with them during the holidays and that it moved around at night and appeared in a different location every morning. Apparently, the Elf would also be very bad during his nightly wanderings and misbehave by throwing cereal all over the kitchen or pulling all the clothes out of the dresser drawers—even scattering glitter all around the house. However, the Elf would try and atone for its mischievous deeds by bringing presents. Now, being the loving and understanding mom that I am, I looked at her like she had totally made that up and was trying to trick me, like her friends had surely tricked her, and I laughed at her little joke. In fact, I explained to her that the whole thing sounded absolutely ridiculous and she didn’t really believe that, did she? I told her that I thought her friends were making all of it up. I laughed and said we are absolutely not playing that crazy-sounding game and informed her that of course, Santa Claus was the only one who brought gifts; he was the real deal, and he did not like it when children made messes and didn’t clean them up. In fact, I said, I couldn’t believe her friends would like having to clean up after an elf. She said they didn’t clean it up—their moms did. WTElf?!

Now, call me lazy, but I just didn’t think I had the time or energy to devote to ransacking my house during the night, pretending a plastic elf did it, and then spending scarce holiday hours cleaning up after myself. Because, let’s be honest here, some mom made these messes and then made herself, not an elf, clean them up. I was just too busy getting ready for Santa’s 2:00 a.m. arrival later in the month to run all around town buying gifts to give from an elf. This was not the time to be playing make-believe nonsense. So I simply told her that we didn’t believe in that sort of thing. Of course, she went back to school and sensibly told all of her friends that we were nonbelievers.

I really didn’t think any more about the Elf over the years, until one day, during the holidays years later, when my daughter was much older. She told me she had been the only one in her entire class who did not have an elf. We laughed about it, but she was still feeling a little bitter over it, I could tell. To tell you the truth, I started feeling a little guilty. I began to consider getting her one, even though it went against my beliefs.

The societal pressure is enormous. She was older now, I reasoned, and would be able to see this elf for the imposter that it was. She could now see how it sent kids the wrong message about not taking responsibility for their actions, and how wrong it was to use bribes of candy and gifts to get out of trouble (she now knew that bribes were only to be used by your parents.) I hoped she could see that the Elf was a direct challenge to the goodness of Santa Claus. I wanted her to realize that the Elf did not represent the meaning of the holidays, that it was plastic, and it had no spirit. Plus, now she was old enough that she could clean up after it.

So, when she was 16, I decided to get her an elf and surprise her with it. I hid it in her closet by letting it hold onto the pull chain to the light in there. Later that afternoon, when she got home from school, she went straight into her room to change into the third of the 12 outfits of her day, and I heard a scream. I went running in there and saw that the Elf had slid down—it was now dangling with the chain wrapped around its neck. The Elf had hung itself. I admit that it was startling to see. The next day, I decided to hide it in her medicine cabinet, and when she got home, another scream—it looked like the Elf was trying to overdose, all wrapped around the pill bottle like it was desperately trying to open it. I tried one more time to hide the damn thing in an unexpected place, but when she was going to sleep that night, I heard yet another scream; the Elf was trying to suffocate itself in her pillow case. That elf will cost us thousands in therapy.

I gave up. By this time, my daughter was freaked out by it and never wanted to see it again. No matter where I tried to put it, it was like some sort of nightmare before Christmas. It is creepy looking even when it isn’t trying to kill itself. Even just sitting on a shelf, it has a sinister smile on its face that reminds you of a murderous Chucky doll.

I am afraid my daughter still hasn’t forgiven me for all of this. But I have to believe she will come to her senses. I believe that Santa will help make it happen. After all, you just have to believe.

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