I Retired Our Elf on the Shelf and Here’s What Happened


elf on the shelf

It’s a tale as old as Christmastime. You’ve just settled into bed for a long winter’s nap, visions of sugarplums almost dancing in your head. Suddenly, your eyes pop open in a moment of panic—you forgot to move the elf. That stupid elf. All of you moms know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

Or maybe not—maybe you are one of the rare moms who truly love the Elf on the Shelf tradition. You find joy in moving your elf each night and have Pinterest boards filled with creative new ways to delight your children day after day, including personalized notes or elaborate scenes of elves getting into mischief. I applaud you if you are one of these moms. I am not one of these moms.

Don’t get me wrong—I love a good holiday tradition as much as the next person. Much to my husband’s dismay, I am one of those annoying people who is ready to jingle bell rock the day after Halloween. Yet despite my love of all things Christmas, the Elf on the Shelf tradition is one I wish I never started.

For me, the elf quickly went from a tradition intended to bring joy to a chore that induced anxiety. I constantly forgot to move the elf and would have to make up excuses in the morning like “he was too tired to move” or “he didn’t move because you didn’t listen to mommy yesterday.” (Mother of the YEAR over here!) There was also the issue of not being able to touch the elf since it would “lose its magic.” Once it fell from our fiddle leaf fig tree and without thinking, I bent down to pick it up only to hear a shriek escape from my daughter’s mouth. I instinctively threw the elf across the room in an attempt to “un-touch” it, which as you can imagine, only made the situation worse.

Then something magical happened. Last year, I lost the elf. I had done such a good job of hiding it the year before that I couldn’t find it anywhere. My kids’ nonstop inquiries about the elf’s whereabouts had me riddled with guilt and ready to go out and buy a new one, but I decided to try something else instead. I explained to them that the elf didn’t come because Santa already knew what good kids they were – he didn’t need an elf to tell him so. (Was this the truth? Absolutely not—my kids are insane—but it was Christmas and I was desperate.) My children, who normally question everything, seemed to accept this explanation without any argument. (A Christmas miracle!)

And so, we went on living our lives—without the elf—and without the added stress. While my other mom friends were still griping about moving their elves each night, I was enjoying a hot bath before bed. With one less thing to worry about during a busy holiday season, I was able to focus more energy on family traditions that I actually enjoyed. And my kids had a newfound sense of confidence in themselves knowing that Santa “trusted” them enough to behave without being under the watchful eye of his elf. My initial guilt about canceling a Christmas tradition dissolved with the realization that maybe some traditions just aren’t meant to be, and that’s okay.

When I finally found the elf this past summer, I briefly considered bringing him out of retirement. Then I regained my sanity and put him right back where I found him – in the depths of a cabinet above the refrigerator. And that’s where he will stay.



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