Sunday, 8 December 2013

Elf on the Shelf and the Christmas Rant

I have mixed feelings about Christmas. Not that I don't like the holiday, I do. There are holidays I like better than Christmas, but I do love the feeling around Christmas. There's a special aura around the holiday, like the one you get around Halloween when the air is cool and crisp and seems saturated with magic. Christmas is like that, but gentler. There's a glow that comes from more than lights on a tree or chill-tipped noses. After New Year, the feeling is harsh, like strip lights in a basement - bleak and bare. Christmas is a warm glow that builds rapidly to the day, and then vaporises nearly immediately. The feeling around Halloween lingers - it feels like Halloween long after the holiday has passed. I have a better 'connection' to the cold half of the year - I don't get feelings off of the 4th of July, for instance, or Easter, or Valentine's day even. It's this season of fall that just glows with something extra.

Now that I've weirded out those who visit this blog, let me continue with something that will put that 'feeling stuff' into context. I like this time of year. I really do. This time of year is fabulous. The world around you lights up at night with strands of glowing bulbs and greenery, and there are festive red ribbons everywhere. It's beautiful, whether or not there's any snow or other obvious signs of winter. If we all decorated for other seasons - putting up big bows and bunting of flowers around the summertime for instance - I think the world would be a lot better to live in. Prettier, at any rate. XD

My point is that I have nothing against the season. I don't hate Christmas, I'm not a Grinch or a Scrooge 'who hates the whole holiday season.' Bear that in mind over the rest of this post.

I don't like many of the traditions around Christmas. There are a few more recent, a few older. Whenever I talk about holidays though, people absolutely explode - there are the typical comments such as I'm a 'hater,' whatever the hell that means, or that I just don't understand (because to understand, one must fully agree, apparently), or that if I don't like something I should just be quiet and let others enjoy it. So if you want to write those things, return the favour and let me enjoy the ability to complain. (:

Elf on the Shelf. Number one reason for writing this post. I really don't like Elf. I won't say hate, because I haven't gotten there yet. Elf sucks on so many levels. There were things I didn't know before, but since a relative of mine has started using the Elf with her little boy, I've found out more about this frankly ridiculous toy. Number one is if your child touches the toy, he loses all his magic? Excuse me? Predictably, the little guy accidentally touched the toy and completely fell apart because he'd killed his Elf. There you go, just the sort of thing you want to encourage in your household leading up to Christmas. And the remedy being cinnamon sprinkled on the Elf? Umm. . . . if you couldn't come up with a good way to fix the magical elf whose ability to be destroyed is equivalent to the delicacy of a card tower, then don't make the elf damageable! Especially not because an innocent child touched the doll!

Another thing I don't like about Elf on the Shelf is that the majority of the elves don't do 'good' things. The point is that they are there to not-so-secretly spy on the family and report back to the big man - Santa Claus - every night about the behaviour of the kids in the house. But what does elfy do? He's not checking off lists of duties the children accomplished on their own, helping out around the house himself, making nice things for the kids like food or little gifts, or doing other responsible things. He's staying up all night eating Skittles and Lollipops watching the not-so-nice movie Elf. He's wrapping toilet paper around the Christmas tree. He's drawing faces on the school pictures, or even on the baby's head with a marker. He's leaving messes of flour, feathers, marshmallows, toys, you name it - nothing you want to be teaching the youngsters. If any of your precious snowflakes drew on the baby's head and put moustaches on the all the school pictures, or stayed up all night watching movies and stuffing candy in their mouths, would you be happy? But that's what the Elf did! (And I'm not joking. Every one of those examples I've seen used.)

In a way, he reminds me of the Household or Kitchen God in China - the one you'd smear honey on the lips of or give a sticky treat to just before the new year so he would only report sweet things (or be unable to speak at all) to the Gods of Heaven on the behaviour of the family over the course of the past year. Except the Household God was the eye that was watching for good behaviour - more like Santa now - rather than the one indulging in less-than-appropriate behaviour while away from the reach of the higher-ups.

Something that encompasses the Elf as well as other portions of Christmas is the idea that children should believe that these magical beings are real. I believe in a lot of magical/mythical creatures, seriously, quite a few. I don't have a problem with belief in things that many people don't accept as factual. But I know for a fact that this Elf is something I'm doing. I'm putting him on the counter and throwing flour about, or having him parachuting down the tree. Why is it imperative for the child to believe that the elf is actually real? I was the child who never believed in a Santa Claus. Of course, I could have thought he was real when I was too young to remember it now, but I don't think I ever believed that he really existed. Maybe that's a fault on my part.

But I don't think that we need to bring Santa into the equation. Gratitude is a good thing - it should be a good thing for your children to know that their parents or their relatives took the time and spent the money to get them or make them the gifts they are receiving. Of course that doesn't mean you have to have your two year old going round the room to say proper thanks to each person for the gifts they have kindly given!! It's just - saying Santa knows what you want for Christmas is a bit of a sticking point when you can't or won't for whatever reasons get everything on that list. You aren't going to get every single Barbie on that list, or all eight different LEGO kits that cost more than $40 apiece. Or you can't find that one that they really wanted, or you just don't have the money that year, or you found other things that you know they'll really like. Then you're stuck Christmas morning explaining why Santa decided not to get them those presents this year.

Christmas doesn't lose the glow it has when you don't all implicitly believe that Santa Claus is coming down the chimney with all the gifts and coal (another rather dubious point) for all the children all over the world. And it certainly wasn't missing anything before the invention of Elf on the Shelf. Unless you're a rare example, most parents aren't going to be tallying up bad behaviour and docking presents. So even if Jimmy was terrible and neither threat of Elf nor Santa got him to behave, he still got a bunch of presents on Christmas with the rest of his brothers and sisters. Now it seems that it doesn't matter he's been less than gold. It's alright to misbehave - you'll get the gifts anyway.

Christmas still feels every bit as precious when we all gather around for a special day, whatever it means to us, for some food we don't generally eat the rest of the year, and have some extra sweets, whether or not there were gifts that year. Or is my family the odd one in the bunch? I highly doubt it. While co-workers have literally spent several thousand on gifts for a 7 year old and a 3 year old this year, most of our gifts are coming from local thrift stores. Not because we're poor, but because you find some awesome things second-hand, and you don't have to pay the price of an upscale mall. Books we've been looking for were found at a Friends of the Library sale. Does that and knowing your sister or your brother went out of their way to locate these items and gave them to you in the hopes you would like them very much lessen the spirit of the holiday? Is it only valuable and magical if we all think Santa brought them to us? Only if the giver bought them brand name for top dollar?

So that was my two cents on Christmas. I don't know how well this will be received, if at all, but there it is. I don't write this in the support of any religious viewpoint on the holiday, or anti-holiday sentiment, it's just the way I've thought about them for a while now. I know many in my immediate family disagree with some of the things I've written, but that's what happens in families. The important thing is that we all still get along despite these differences. And I hope your families will too, during the stress of travel, getting things shipped on time, and dealing with less-than-friendly family members over the course of the season!