There's an Elf on the Shelf

Festive characters report children’s behavior to Santa each year—could adults benefit from being watched, too?

Photo by vectorfusionart/fotolia

A few years ago, my friends introduced their young children to the Christmas tradition of Elf on the Shelf, a rhyming storybook that explains how Santa Claus knows who’s been naughty and nice, accompanied by a cute little red-suited imp. If you’ve somehow missed the phenomenon (and its decidedly non-G-rated counterpart, an internet meme with adults photographing the elf in compromising positions—sharing a beer bong with Barbie among the tamest), the gist of it goes something like this:

When a “scout elf” is adopted by a family, it receives (bear with me here) magic superpowers that enable it to fly to the North Pole each night and give Santa an update. Then, every morning, the elf returns to the family’s home and perches on a new spot (a shelf, perhaps) from which to monitor the children. The tale’s only rule is that kids are not allowed to touch the elf. If they do, it loses its magic.

You can see where this is going…one of my friends’ kids touched the elf. Worse, he lied about it. After repeated denials and much gnashing of the premolars, (including a false confession by his brother, if that tells you anything about the psychology of police interrogations), the perpetrator tearfully confessed. Fortunately, a heartfelt apology letter convinced the elf to forgive him and return. 

Oh, how the world might be different if adults behaved as if they were being watched.

Ken Cloud knows he is. That’s because, with a beard as white and cumulous as his name, and a seasonal gig as Southdale Mall’s Santa, kids actually think he’s Saint Nick—even after the holidays. As senior editor Quinton Skinner learned from interviewing Cloud, he must stay in character wherever he goes. That means no raising his voice; no sending back his toast; no flipping the bird if he’s cut off in traffic.

It’s an approach more of us adults could take to heart. My wish for the holiday season is that we all try to act more Santa-like.

Portrait by Erika Ludwig, Hair and Makeup by Margo Gordon