I was having dinner and wine with some girlfriends on Tuesday night. We started talking about Santa Claus and what we would tell our children about him. One of my friends said she wasn’t going to tell her kids Santa was real because it’s a lie.
The conversation then turned to this “Elf on the Shelf” craze. I hadn’t heard of this Christmas tradition before last year. Basically there’s an elf doll that observes the day to day activities in the house then reports back to Santa nightly, while the family sleeps. He returns the next day, usually “hiding” in a new spot somewhere in the house. It sounds very cute and fun (I think the little elf doll is adorable) but something about it really rubs me the wrong way.
The problem I have with Elf on the Shelf (and even Santa to some extent) is that these traditions encourage kids to be good in order to get presents. They’re not being good because it’s right or because it makes them feel good, they’re being good to get rewarded. And what happens at the end of the season when the elf goes back into the box? Where’s the incentive to be good?
It would be exhausting to have the elf out all year, what with its mischief and hiding but it seems to me that a child would think, “Welp, the elf is gone. So Santa’s not gonna know if I’m being good or not.”
I believed in Santa for a time when I was a kid. The thing is I don’t think I ever felt compelled to be good because Santa was watching. I knew my behavior directly affected the mood of my parents and sister. So the people I always tried to please was them. Honestly, why should I care about the opinion of some fat guy living at the North Pole when my parents were around all year?
That’s not to say that I didn’t love all our traditions involving Santa. I did and still do! We got pictures taken with Santa, wrote letters and left milk, cookies and carrots (for the reindeer) out on Christmas Eve. But for our family the emphasis of Christmas was not about getting presents. Of course when you’re a kid that’s a very big deal, but my parents tried not focus too much on that. I was raised in a Christian household so the whole point of the holiday was the birth of Jesus and family coming to stay from far away. So it irks me to see so much emphasis put on “being good to get gifts.”
I’m not anti-Santa. Jack has gone to get his picture with Santa since he was 5 months old. This year he even told Santa what he wanted and I made sure I purchased the Lego’s he asked for and put a “From Santa” tag on the package. But I’m not going to threaten him with the prospect of no toys on Christmas day if he’s bad. I try to explain to him that when he does mean things like hit, or call people names it makes them sad and that it’s just not nice. It is difficult to explain to a three year old who is stubborn and dramatic but I think it’s an important lesson.
I believe it’s so important for our children to learn early to have empathy for others. It’s equally important for them to know that a lot of the time you do good things and get nothing in return and that’s just the way the world is. Maybe if we start teaching our kids to do good things because it’s the right thing to do, not for some kind of reward, we would see more love in this world and less indifference.
Maybe if we showed our children how to be kind to people around us, even those we find repulsive, all year round there would be no need to bribe our children into good behavior with Santa and the Elf on the Shelf.