Recently, late at night, as my wife and I peel ourselves from the sofa to clear away our empty gin glasses and extinguish the Christmas tree lights (by jabbing at an inaccessible switch with a mop), one of us will grumpily exclaim: “Oh God. What the fuck are we going to do with Larry?”
Larry, you see, is our Scout Elf (aka The Elf on the Shelf®) purchased at the behest of our six-year-old son, who felt he was missing out on all the elf chat at the school bus stop. Coincidentally, as our elf was beginning his magical journey from the Argos warehouse to our doorstep – via the back of a muddy transit van – brilliant illustrator and cartoonist Stephen Collins was tweeting about the global phenomenon.
Of course, by that point, it was already too late, and we were committed. Our elf was delivered a day later when we officially adopted him, and he was named Larry by our son. This highly lucrative “Christmas tradition”, imported from across the pond, was now intertwined with our festivities.
The Elf on the Shelf is the brainchild of Carol Aebersold and her adult twin daughters, Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts. In 2004, they wrote a poem (which would later become the storybook) about their own family’s Elf on the Shelf tradition, which saw ‘Fisbee’ the Scout Elf inject a little Christmas magic into their childhood in 1970s Georgia.
The basic premise is sound: Scout Elves appear in homes every Christmas, quietly observing children’s behaviour and reporting to Santa Claus every night. After feeding Santa crucial intelligence to help inform his decision about which names go on the ‘naughty or nice’ lists, the elves return from the North Pole and seek out new vantage points around the house from where they can continue their surveillance. The excitement for children is waking up every morning and seeing if they can find where the elves are hiding.
But at some point in the last 15 years, social media influencers (the type who wouldn’t just sell their soul but attempt to improve its reach and engagement via a series of inane Instagram Stories) got hold of this tradition. They subsequently turned the simple idea of ‘find the elf’ into a nightmarish competition for creating the most hilarious and share-worthy scenes involving Santa’s little spies.
Only yesterday, Country Living magazine dedicated an entire article to American country music singer Brad Paisley’s “next-level Elf on the Shelf dioramas”, which reportedly left fans “on the edge of their seats”. This infuriating overachievement means that children are no longer satisfied with simply trying to seek out an elusive elf – now they want him to recreate the bullet-time scene from The Matrix or make snow angels in a powdery bed of crushed-up paracetamol.
My son keeps hinting that he wants to see Larry wrap our Christmas tree in toilet paper. My wife and I continually bat that idea away by reminding him that Larry is here to observe his and his brother’s behaviour during the run-up to Christmas, so being naughty wouldn’t set the right example. He’s a cheeky elf, but he doesn’t have a behavioural disorder.
We’ve tried orchestrating a few small-scale toilet paper-related scenes in the hope it will assuage his desire for larger-scale high jinks with bog roll. I created a snowman out of three toilet rolls the other night, which went down quite well. Of course, at some point in the next few days, I will have to perform a most Scrooge-like act and wipe my bum on a cheery snowman’s face. That’s a Christmas violation that will see me not just added to the naughty list but blacklisted for life.
However, some of the Elf on the Shelf inspiration I’ve found on Google is weirdly scatological and downright disgusting. One photo shows two elves sitting on a toilet seat smeared with excrement, with the words “Needed a poo” scrawled on the lid with a soiled finger. Of course, the idea that elves would excrete anything other than perhaps rainbow-coloured sherbet or that they would work for Santa Claus and yet be unaware of basic toilet etiquette is utterly ridiculous. I’ve seen another picture of an elf urinating into bottles, which he’s selling on a lemonade stall. “Merry Christmas! Drink my piss!” Where’s the magic in that?! Still, I’m sure it clocked up several thousand likes, shares, retweets, upvotes, or whatever method of validation the parent’s drug of choice was.
But for us, with our gentle, low-key, unshared efforts, we’ve now got just two more days to go. Two more days to rack our tired brains at the arse-end of the day to devise a plan of action for a smirking toy. The other day, my son marvelled at how Larry could move around the house while we were all sleeping, which warmed my cockles no end. And it’s certainly been worth getting an Elf on the Shelf to watch our boys excitedly combing the house each morning. But when this Christmas has passed, and my wife and I congratulate ourselves on a job well done, one question remains: what the holy hell do we do with him next year?