Like many holiday traditions, Elf on the Shelf began so innocently.
We got our little elf doll and accompanying storybook as a gift several years ago, when the phenomenon first started to take off.
The idea – in case you haven’t been inundated with elf photos in your Facebook news feed – is that every day during the weeks leading up to Christmas, a family’s elf hides somewhere in their house to watch over the children and observe all the daily goings-on. Every night he flies to the North Pole to report back to Santa what he has seen, good or bad, and before the family wakes the next morning, he’s hiding in a new spot.
Part of the modern-day magic of Christmas in America is a daily game of find-the-elf. Children aren’t supposed to touch their scout elf – he might lose his magic, the story explains – but they can talk to him and tell him all their Christmas wishes so the elf can report those to Santa as well.
Cute tradition, right? Of course.
Then the Internet got ahold of it and Elf on the Shelf went from delightful to disturbing – and, I must say, pretty hilarious.
An annual trend and accompanying Twitter hashtag, #InappropriateElf, shows what can happen when a charming little Christmas character meets today’s bawdy, dark-humored, “South Park” culture.
Dallas mom-blogger Jill Krause at BabyRabies.com started the Inappropriate Elf Contest last year, after a blog post showing her kids’ elf in five inappropriate scenarios inspired other parents to brainstorm – and then stage, photograph and share – perverse holiday tableaux for their own elves. That first year, she had 110 entries.
I won’t divulge too many details, as this is a family newspaper, but I’ll tell you that this year’s PG-13 series of inappropriateness so far includes elves posing as serial killer “Dexter,” elves partying, Snooki elves, elves in hot tubs and one titled “Fifty Shades of Elf.”
My daughter, Hannah, 15, still embraces our Elf on a Shelf tradition but now is old enough to recognize a certain creepiness in that sideways glance and those rosy elfin cheeks. Last week, prior to Fizbee’s annual arrival on our kitchen mantel, Hannah looked at the calendar, then at me, and said, “Two days until the devil returns.”
Devil? I snorted, but understood. We’ve both seen too many “Paranormal Activity” movies not to wonder if Fizbee’s magical powers might include springing to life in the middle of the night and grabbing a knife or clapping his hands together like some cymbal-clanging monkey.
And again, hilarious. Even Fizbee recognized that, choosing to greet Hannah on day two by staring directly into her eyes from the edge of her nightstand. What a joker.
My friend Jill, a bit disturbed at how ubiquitous Elf on the Shelf has become, recently started her own version, Barbie on a Bender, and began posting snapshots on Instagram. The first installment showed mini-skirted Barbie lounging against a tower of Keurig K-Cups, “wiped after a hard night at the club.”
“Needs coffee, stat,” Jill wrote.
When she asked Facebook friends to share suggestions for Barbie’s December calendar, she got nearly two dozen replies, including one from her mom: “I think somebody has too much free time.”
“Not too much free time, Mom,” Jill responded. “Just enough.”
It might seem silly or a waste of time for adults to pose toys in compromising positions – like Krause’s elf, dancing Gangnam style with a trio of Tinkerbell dolls and singing, “Heyyyyyyy, sexy fairies!”
But I consider that the creativity of Christmas.