Monday, December 3, 2012

I Don't Like Elf on the Shelf

The following post is my all-time most popular - which cracks me up, because I spent all of ten minutes writing it, off the top of my head, without thinking anyone would ever notice it AT ALL.

Now, a year later, people are still commenting on my hastily scribbled thoughts. Some of the discussions have veered way off track; for example, I think a couple folks are currently debating whether or not Christ actually existed (not touching that one with a ten-foot-pole, by the way!)  

I hope everyone realizes that, even though I personally don't like Elf on the Shelf, I'm not condemning anyone who does. If your family thinks it's fun, then by all means roll with it. It's not for us, but that doesn't make it wrong. (I hope that would be self-evident, but I have been accused more than once of trying to ruin everyone else's fun - nope, just telling the world why I'm personally creeped out).

One more thing - I'm well aware that some of my points contradict one another. That doesn't make them any less true. I'm not trying to construct any type of logical argument against using Elf on the Shelf; I'm just sharing my own personal feelings about it. And, naturally, feelings aren't aways going to make sense.  That's just life!
Hate 'em...
Here are seven reasons I despise this "holiday tradition":

It's  incredibly creepy. If Elf on the Shelf had been around when I was a kid, I would have spent the entire month of December on tenterhooks, terrified that the scary-looking elf thing was waiting for me around every corner.

It's deceitful. I hate lying to Trey so much that I can barely bring myself to do the whole "Santa" thing. So I'm certainly not going to trick him into believing that a seemingly inanimate object is actually monitoring his behavior by day, then flying back to the North Pole for a status meeting with Santa by night.

It confuses the whole "good behavior/bad behavior" issue. Bad behavior is bad because it's, well, bad - not because it might cost you a toy on Christmas morning. And I want Trey to be good not so he can earn brownie points with Santa, but because it's the right thing to do. Elf on the Shelf completely bypasses those messages, instead teaching kids that the only reason to be good is to earn a reward (or avoid punishment).

It's mean. Do we really need to hold the consequences of misbehavior over our kids' heads every minute of the day - even when they're being perfectly lovely? As a child, I would have literally lost sleep obsessing over every move I made, and the Elf's possible interpretations, for the entire Advent season. 

It doesn't make sense. Most children young enough to believe in Santa are also too young to care what happens in a month's time. Little kids live in the now. The promise of presents-yet-to-come is too murky a concept to inspire good behavior. Slightly older kids may be more responsive to the whole Naughty List/Nice List story, but it's still a much more abstract idea than an immediate time-out, loss of privileges, or stern lecture from mom. 

It diminishes parental authority. To be blunt: Santa's not the boss of Trey; I am. That means it's my job to teach him right from wrong, without invoking the name of some bearded boogeyman who lives thousands of miles away. Besides, if the only way I can control Trey is to threaten him with the Naughty List, how am I going to make him behave in April?

It's an empty threat. Let's face it: no parents in the world are actually going to cancel Christmas morning, no matter how banshee-like their children's behavior has been during the previous month. Young kids won't understand the hypocrisy any better than they understood the entire Elf on the Shelf experience (in other words, not very well). But those old enough to grasp the disconnect between Advent's promises of coal and Christmas morning's glut of gifts will learn a potent lesson about the consequences of bad behavior - albeit, probably not the one their parents had hoped for.

Do you hate Elf on the Shelf, too? Tell me why (I'm sure I missed something key). 

Do you love Elf on the Shelf? Tell me why I'm wrong!

The Gentle Mom

58 comments:

  1. Boy, I really live in the sticks...hadn't really heard of Elf on the Shelf before. I'm cracking up! Too funny.

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  2. Give me a break and don't over-analyze a silly little elf so much!! It's just a fun little thing that leads up to Christmas. My boys LOVE it and look forward to finding him each morning!!

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    1. This is our take here. My kids love the hunt every morning when he finally shows up. We don't have the story book elf, we use the one from the Rudolf cartoon. Plus, it's challenging for me and DH to find hiding places. It's just a game.

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    2. Your kids are are suppressing their nightmares brought by the elf. They act excited because they don't want to upset the elf. The elf has the god-like power to end Christmas as they know it. All of which is absolutely hilarious- keep up the good work! :D

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  3. Thank you for your blog post. I despise the whole idea of the Elf on the Shelf for your very reasons. It is creepy and has nothing to do with the actual meaning of Christmas. I definitely feel like I am in the minority with my feelings on it, but I refuse to buckle in the pressures of this new trend. My 4 year old daughter is scared enough as it is to sleep in her bedroom by herself at night, yet it is ok for this creepy looking elf to come alive at night and reek havoc on our house? The whole idea is just beyond bizarre. It is a little disconcerning to me how quickly parents are buying into this idea just because their child's other classmates have an elf.

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  4. I agree with you about using it (and Santa) as a threat. I told my son that Santa knows he is a good boy and he doesn't have to worry about not receiving presents. -And I definitely agree that the elf is creepy looking, but my son has so much fun looking for him every morning. -And I love seeing my son's excitement each morning. It really is a fun new tradition!

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  5. Well, I am all in favor of fun. But...those eyes! Those creepy little elf eyes! Not cool! :)

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  6. THANK YOU!!!!!! I have been looking for someone who shares my complete and total dislike for this hideous idea! And let me tell you, it's hard to come by. I agree with EVERY word you have said. But also, if you are a Christian person who wants to instill those morals and beliefs, an elf is NOT going to help. Nor is Santa. Nor is lying to your child about the entire idea of Christmas. I mean, what else are we going to create to put in the place of Christ?! Sorry, just ranting and I don't want to force my beliefs. But I just am so thankful that you posted this blog. Seriously.

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  7. Thank you so much. It's nice to know there are others out there who don't buy into this trend!

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  8. I think you are so wise! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You are not over-analyzing this. God has told us the the enemy comes as a wolf in sheeps clothing. Time & time again our culture is being decieved & robbed, especially in our role as parents. We celebrate Jesus at Christmas because he's so much more exciting than an elf on a shelf or Santa Clause! And what blesses me so much is seeing that my children WANT to celebrate Jesus & not all that they WANT or get to do :) Isn't that awesome?!! Again, thank you for sharing this, really! And Merry Christmas :)

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  9. I completely agree! My son is only 20 months old, but we will NOT be doing Elf on the Shelf...or Santa for that matter. You can certainly have fun during the Christmas season and keep Christ the focus, not silly commercialized characters.

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    1. Christ is as much a commercialized character as Santa, this stupid looking elf or the Coca Cola polar bears. Don't kid yourself. Maybe you can try making family the focus? Maybe its too much, I dunno...

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    2. The problem with that statement is... Christ was a real person, not a character. Whether you believe in Him or not, history can't deny that he was real. And of course the only reason we celebrate Christmas today. Just saying...

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    3. Christ actually wasn't a real person. He is a myth. He was created from the stories of ancient "gods" before him. There was no historical Christ..he is a mythical creature. Feel free to read any of the extensive literature on the subject. I particularly am fond of Gerald Massey's lectures, which were written in the 1800s.

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    4. I am particularly fond of the New Testament, which was written what? 200 AD-ish by numerous authors (whom I'm sure you believe simply got their educated selves together to whip up a conspiracy to force mankind to love their neighbor)Also extensive literature on the subject. And not all written by a self-taught translator who may, too, have some dates confused.
      No elf on the shelf for our family either, Or Santa, or Egyptian theory.

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  10. I completely agree. I feel like this tradition pretty much goes against everything that's potentially good about Christmas, and reinforces everything that's problematic (consumerism, the strange moral code, emphasis on objects instead of relationships). We don't do the Santa thing for similar reasons. I can enjoy the holiday season without coercing my children into being good with threats of some creepy doll acting like our police.

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  11. I agree as well! I actually found your blog by Googling "I hate Elf on a Shelf" just hoping to find at least ONE mom who detests that thing for all the same reasons I do. So thank you, I now feel a little less alone.

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    1. Me too! I get strange looks when I mention my dislike of this thing, and everything it represents. It just send the wrong messages and I do not think it's a fun harmless tradition for all the reasons mentioned in the blog.

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  12. LOL, based on these comments, I'm pretty sure we're NOT alone in our dislike. :)

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  13. I agree with you 100%. I was reading the glowing reviews on Amazon and needed to know I wasn't the only one who was not enamored with the whole concept. You're not over analyzing it. My kids (twins) are exposed to it in kindergarten, which is kind of surprising. They do not even believe in Santa anymore, but apparently were falling for the elf idea until I tipped them off. I do get that kids have that need for pretending/fantasy, and that's great, but like you, I could barely bring myself to perpetuate the Santa thing but I did. Now that they no longer believe, rather than being sad like a lot of moms I know, it's almost a relief. Yeah, I think the whole elf thing is just creepy and wrong...the whole idea of "be good, or else!"

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  14. Agreed 100%, Elf on Shelf is a definite no-go.

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  15. I'm completely opposed to the consumerism that is rampant at Christmas. My kids only get one present from each person who buys for them, no matter how much Grandpa and Nanny protest. That said, I think this whole Elf on the Shelf thing is being blown way out of proportion. No one is suggesting that you let this doll usurp your power as a parent and stop giving your child real world consequences for their misbehaviour.

    Believe it or not, children are much more resilient than we give them credit for, and none, except for the most damaged, will be spending their days and nights fretting over a doll. If your child can't function because of a doll on a shelf, there are deeper-rooted problems that need to be addressed.

    Children today are less independent and less able to function after leaving the home than they were in past generations. Universities are forced to inflate grades, because kids simply can't handle the stress of post-secondary school anymore. Some young adults can't even go to job interviews without Mommy with them. This type of helicopter parenting is destroying our children. Making a big deal out of something so insignificant is not only silly, but it instills in your own children the same mentality - oversensitizing them and rendering them incapable of functioning in the real world.

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  16. I totally agree! I have a hard enough time with Santa and if it weren't for family and spousal pressure I think we would skip the Santa myth entirely. I find the Elf on a Shelf extremely creepy.

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  17. I don't think not wanting to put an elf on the shelf is considered helicopter parenting; in fact, quite the opposite...I feel like the elf game ups the control factor. The elf would be the ultimate helicopter if you want to make that analogy. I want my kids to be good when NO ONE is watching, because I for one will not be filling out their job applications or sending in resumes for them.

    For me, it has nothing to do with thinking my kids will lose sleep over the elf, it's just parenting style. Just as I can not bring myself to utter the words "be good, Santa's watching..." or "If you want presents...." I cannot bring myself to say the doll is watching them and reporting to the north pole every night. I thought about whether I would do it if we all were open about the idea that it's just a silly game...but even then...to me it's just odd. Obviously a lot of people disagree and that's the beauty of choosing your own parenting style. I really doubt that whether or not you did elf on the shelf as a child will have serious consequences as an adult. I really doubt that those who do the elf thing will be more capable of functioning in the real world; same goes for those who do not. In the end, different strokes for different folks. -Karen

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  18. I am so glad to find more people like me. I hate the elf on the shelf. We celebrate Christmas, although not in a religious way, more of a Christmas spirit kind of way. But I hate that kids are told to be good to get gifts. We don't lie about santa in our house, and we encourage Christmas to be about giving to others. I overheard a mother in a store the other day tell her child if he didn't sit down in his cart she was going to call santa and tell him. This stuff drives me crazy. I tell my boys that it is easy to be good when someone is watching, but it is way more important to be good when no one is watching you. Grr, I hate that elf.

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  19. I hadn't thought all this through (probably because my kids are teens). I just loathe that thing on the grounds that A he is utterly creepy and B, I am alway suspect of anything everyone is suddenly doing. The Jones are doing it effect is even creepier than that creepy elf.

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  20. Forgot to mention that my post (Dec. 7 11:48 pm) was in response to Chad, not the gentle mom of course, who is of the same mind as I. :) Good to have a friendly discussion; nothing else. -Karen

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  21. My daughter came home last night crying and told us the Elf on the Shelf doesn't come to her house because she's bad, since all the other kids in her class have one. This is a nightmare. We do the Santa thing because it's a magical part of Christmas. I don't have a problem with keeping up that fantasy for a few years. But I do have a problem with the fact that it makes kids who don't have one feel like somehow they did something wrong. Why invent yet another story (other than to make money)?

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  22. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS. I have been doing my best to begin teaching our kids (almost 3 and 4) the REAL meaning of Christmas and this elf is popping up everywhere!

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  23. I am grateful my boys were born before Elf on the Shelf.

    The bottom line is that life is already complicated enough without parents feeling pressured to play some game with an elf doll. The underlying message of the way this product is marketed really disturbs me. Am I a better mom if I flawlessly execute the Elf game? Must I also create hand made Christmas cards or carve my own Nativity figures?

    Let yourself off the hook. Lock the doors and the windows and keep that elf out of your house.

    I feel really sorry for the mother of anonymous. Anonymous, tell your daughter you caught that silly elf trying to sneak in the house and you told him he wasn't needed.

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  24. Hate the Elf idea--how creepy and voyeuristic! But we do love Santa and I don't see it as "lying" anymore than reading a story about field mice who can talk or dolls that can play. Childhood is a time for imagination and wonder--they figure out the difference between reality and fantasy soon enough and I for one am happy to play along and have tea with teddy bears and encourage my kids to think that their bicycles are race cars or ponies or rockets. I have never once met someone who believed in Santa as a child who resented being "lied" to. A benevolent, generous, loving grandpa named Santa is a centuries-old tradition and it seems a little harsh to keep a child from enjoying the innocent fun. As for the Elf--that to me is the embodiment of all that is WRONG with Christmas. The focus is too much on the gifts and "earning" Santa's love. It is scary to think of this sneaky creature tattling on every misdeed.

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  25. Wow. I just wrote something on my blog that basically says the damn near exact same thing as you (albeit a far bit dirtier). Here I thought I was somewhat original in my ire about this whole Elf on the Shelf business and someone else out there is drawing the same conclusions as me. Well done!

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  26. Found your post via the comments section of the Slate article. Count me in as another mom who find that elf creepy!

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  27. So glad to find others who hate this creepy/cruel thing. Thanks for posting!

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  28. It is really nice to know I am not alone. I think it is a super creepy, super cheap, super ill-conceived , money making gimmick. Bleh.

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  29. I also hate that horrible elf! Thanks for writing this post!

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  30. I use elf on the shelf as part of our countdown.. kind of like an elf treasure hunt. She has to find the elf and he holds the little burlap bag with the number of days left (we do the twelve days of Christmas) and in each bag is one "Christmas" event.. from the Toys for Tots drive to baking something yummy.. Christmas light drives to choosing world vision gifts. He is always doing something funny so it makes Christmas countdown a little extra special and there is no story about a little elf reporting to Santa.. which I agree.. is a little creepy. My daughter knows that any and all "elf" gimmicks are posed by mommy. :)

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  31. Great post, and I agree - and don't agree - and hence my dilemma! :)

    Anonymous (of Nov 7!)... You've got some ideas there I can work with! I've been debating "To Elf or Not To Elf" for our family (daughter just turned 3, newborn baby). I kind of like the idea and kind of hate it at the same time. I wanted to think of ways to make it a tradtion I can work with, rather than "Elf as Santa's Spy... behave or else!" I like the idea of the hide-n-seek, that could be fun. And I like the idea of Elf suggestiong holiday activities, etc. Maybe we will be an Elf family after all...

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  32. if you don't like the elf then don't get the elf...but you all shouldn't make other feels bad if they have the elf and their kids love the thing!!..I don't believe in christ...xmas is all about santa for us and no one will change my beliefs on that

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  33. i personally think the Elf on the Shelf is cute and old-fashioned. it's the cute ideas that entail the idea of the elf, cooperating holiday ideas into the gesture. i don't think the doll is "creepy" at all, nvr thought of it at first impression. he's just got a really mischiveous, sneaky yet playful expression on his face. ppl over-analyze too much, why can't one just have fun & enjoy IN the moment.

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  34. HATE him, see here:
    www.facebook.com/antielfonshelf

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  35. We don't do santa or easter bunny or toothfairy...hard to teach kids about a God they cannot see (physically right now) when every other "character" they grew up hearing about ends up being fake. Ya know?

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  36. I'm right with you and I like the way you laid this out clearly and concisely. My #1 problem (although not only) with it is that it's deceitful. I don't believe that blatantly lying to children is an effective way to build their trust. For example, my 4 year old likes to pretend that Santa gives gifts and has had a grand time sitting on the laps of two different Santas this year, but she knows that he is not literally going to come down our chimney and give her presents. She still thinks Santa is great and I'm very thankful that we don't have to lie to get her to enjoy this aspect of the holiday. I think kids have bigger imaginations than we give them credit for. :)

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  37. Just found out about this Elf book and at first I was completely disgusted by it. I don't like using threats to get things done. Its like at work when someone says, "Corporate wants this done" or uses any scapegoat instead of just saying I want this done or do this. Kids should know you as the parent want something a certain way and they should do it because you are the parent. With that begin said, I am all for a fun hide and seek game around Christmas time for kids to find an Elf or Santa doll. Just without the coming alive or threatening part. (also not judging others, I understand sometimes you need to do what you need to do with kids to get some sanity and if it works for you, then USE IT!)

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  38. I know this post is over a year old, but I couldn't help adding a thought. We got the girl elf for our 5 year old daughter this year. Its stuffed and less creepy than the boy. We don't keep it on a shelf; my daughter takes her everywhere with her. She shares her adventures with the doll, and sends requests to Santa in a little baggie that she sets next to her elf each night. Our elf is not a 'tattle-tell', but a companion. We keep with the 'come-to-life' each night thing, because she has so many friends with elves, and I didn't want to spoil the magic for any of them. But...I disagree with using it as a punishment. For our child, it is little more than a fun addition to Christmas.

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  39. I found this blog through the NYTimes on 12/27/12. This is the first year that Elphie came to our house for a six year old girl. When she got up, a big sugary breakfast was on the table with festive decorations. She was thrilled as many kids at school have an elf. We do not use it for "watching" or punishment. Elphie does go to the NPole every night and does tell Santa all the things she does..what a good friend she is, how creative she is, and more. She had to go to the ER one night and the next morning Elphie was sleeping in a Barbie bed with a note asking how she was and saying he was tired like she was. Every morning there is a note from Elphie reinforcing her about how kind and sweet she is. Elphie is NOT a snitch...just an extension of Santa. On Pinterest there are letters to explain that Santa is not a real person, that parents buy presents, etc...but that the Santa represents the spirit of Christmas...loving, giving without strings, helping others who are less fortunate. In the end both Santa and Elphie can be a wonderful fantasy for little kids to reinforce the ideas talked about by the Gentle Mom. The emphasis should never be on tattling or earning gifts but rather the attitudes and behaviors supported by Christ and by her Mom and I....always move toward the Good. Namaste'

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  40. You should check out The Pajama Elves by Hayden Edwards. It is the story of elves at the North Pole who sew magical pajamas that help children sleep on Christmas Eve, so Santa can visit unnoticed. A fun Christmas tradition for families that doesn't require as much effort.

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  41. I agree with all your points. Excellently presented. Sometimes the "10 minute throwdown" at the keyboard is best.

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  42. Yeah! Its nice to see other parents feels the same way. I agree about the creepiness, Who wants a elf staring at them all the time. So my kids can be bad all year but then right before Christmas this elf shows up to watch them and keeps them good up till Christmas?? I don't think so. We started our own tradition last year with a elf, but our elf is an Foreign Exchange Elf. He/She visits from the North Pole during Christmas to see what its like to live in our world. She went everywhere with us, we took her to Disney last year. The kids got to take turns holding her in their backpacks and took pictures with her on different rides and made a scrap book of their adventures with her so she has something to take back to the North Pole with her to show the other elves what life is like here. (You should see the evil eyes I get from parents who don't allow their children to touch the elf in fear they will make them sick or kill them. Seriously???) The kids have already told me they are looking forward to seeing their elf again this year, but I think I am going to have a new "foreign exchange elf"come visit this year. The elf leaves little notes for them each night with jokes or thank you's for playing with her and the kids get to leave their own notes with questions about the elf world and Santa's workshop, etc. The elf helps them finish puzzles, and gets to play board games with them. He/she only comes alive when they are sleeping, because they are noctural and like to check out the house and see how everything works. The elf ends up somewhere else from where they started the night before, the kids really love that. We once found the elf "Clarise" in the freezer because as she said she missed the very cold weather up in the North Pole, Florida weather is very hot for her even in winter.

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    1. that is awesome!! that sounds like way more fun than thinking you might make your elf sick if you touch it.

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  43. I completely agree. And I think you worded everything well. It seems people have strong opinions one way or another, and I am very against Elf on the Shelf!

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  44. Interesting, although somehow the little elf looks familiar I can't really say I recall knowing about it. That said, I dont' like it..lol. Anyhow this is your opinion and I can't say you are wrong. Although some opinions are based on some facts they are mostly sprinkled with emotion and personal preferences, and that's just my opinion.

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  45. Thank goodness i found you all.. My biggest problem is the first rule of not being aloud to touch the elf or it will loose it's magic.. how sick it that?!!! I want my daughter to feel magical, not like a magic steeling Monster. so the kid loves the elf so much it wants to hug it and play with it, but can't or it will get sick, loose it's magic and not be able to get home?? Why would any one want to put their kid through that? It honestly breaks my heart and makes me sick that parent think scaring there kids into being good at christmas is fun.

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  46. Glad to find a kindred spirit. I was starting to feel the pressure because other kids in my son's 1 st grade class have the Elf in their household. I was feeling a little unnecessarily guilty but then did a search for "refuse to do the elf on the shelf" and came across your blog. I now feel validated! ;) Happy Christmas!

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  47. I loved your post last year, and this year I blogged about the elf myself. Although I'm an official elf-hater, I also get joy out of mocking it. I blogged about it! I think I feel the same way you do about the elf, although my way of expressing myself is slightly less PG. -Jennifer Valencia http://jvalenciaphoto.com/have-yourself-a-merry-little-christmas/

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