The Elf on the Shelf – Creepy Spy or Santa’s Helper?

Every year at Christmas Santa sends his elves to watch you,
and they go back and tell him who’s been bad and who’s been good.
The Elf on the Shelf is watching you, what you say, what you do.
The Elf on the Shelf is watching you, each and every Christmas.

Elf On the Shelf

Image courtesy of angryjuliemonday via Creative Commons

This little guy (or sometimes girl) is the culprit of much controversy this year. The Elf on the Shelf, in case you haven’t heard of him, is a elf themed doll that one can purchase in stores. It comes with a book and basically the story is that the elf is magical, he comes to your home each Christmas, watches how your children behave and reports to Santa his findings. If your child touches him the magic is lost and he won’t be able to go to the North Pole.

Since The Elf on the Shelf was created in 2005 parents have been buying them up like crazy and doing all sorts of things with their elves. Some parents set up elaborate staging, like this little guy named Albert, from Stacy of She’s {kinda} Crafty:

Elf on the Shelf Twine

While some parents forget or don’t bother to move their elves some parents go all out. They name their elf and take their job at moving these guys around very serious. And although these little North Poleians seem cute and harmless are they really?

Some parents like myself express concern when it comes to the newest holiday rage sweeping the country. Many are concerned about the creepiness of the whole story. Some don’t want to bother with, “yet another lie” we have to tell our children. Others don’t want to take the time since Christmas is already a busy enough holiday. And then there are those of us who would rather focus on the “reason for the season” sorry to be a little cliché. If your Christmas is Santa Light* like we consider ours then adding The Elf on the Shelf just wouldn’t make sense anyway.

When Miss A was about 3 years old I had heard about The Elf on the Shelf from one of my girlfriends and thought it was a cute idea at the time when we were still figuring out how we wanted to create our own traditions. I remember checking out the book at Barnes and Noble and thinking it was way too long of a story for Miss A to be interested so I opted out.

Personally I am not a fan of The Elf on the Shelf for many of the above reasons, mainly because it does not fit into our Advent/Faith focused Christmas. I like to explore all sides of the Elf on the Shelf thought bank and here is what some of my friends and readers have to say about this phenomenon. Would love to hear how you relate as well.

“I have mixed feelings about the Elf (our girls have named him Sparky). We don’t really resort to it to instill good behavior with the kids, because I believe they should be behaving just because that’s what they’re supposed to do, not for a reward (gifts from Santa, etc.). With us it’s more of a game of just seeing where he appears each morning, in what silly position, etc. We never used the “Sparky’s watching!” or anything…The girls simply have more fun imagining that he has moved slightly from one minute to the next.” – Leslie P. from Cheektowaga, NY

Those things are creepy and I don’t need an elf to spy for me. I do just fine on my own. And what happens the rest of the year when the elf goes home? – Kadi P.


Lanai N.'s Elf "Bumblebee" taking a bubble bath

I love the Elf on the Shelf because I get to see the excited on my kids face every morning when they go looking for him. – Lanai N. – Denver, NC.

When we cleaned out the garage, I found a big Christmas gift bag full of spider webs. In it was an Elf on a Shelf that I had gotten years ago from a friend. That thing scared me. I thought it was a piece of junk and never used it. It’s now donated. – Connie R.

I feel like I am the only one not doing it – they are all over pinterest and instagram. Philosophically, I’m not crazy about it. On many levels. No judgements for those who do it! Just not for me. – Kristen H.

They are vintage & kinda creepy looking, but the story behind the creation is a great one. The mother & daughter creators are great people & friends of one of our artists so that made me curious. My 9, 12 & 14 yo are much too old to believe, but my 9 yo is sure having fun surprising us with her elf’s antics every morning. We’ll be interviewing the creators in February & I’m truly excited to hear all about their success story. – Jennifer T.

At Christmastime, we make it very clear that Santa is a fun, pretend person (just like Ninja Turtles or Imagination Movers) so we allow our kids to “pretend’ Santa on a small scale while at the same time constantly talking about the true meaning of Christmas – the birth of Jesus. We spend time caring for others, giving gifts out of our abundance, caroling, celebrating Advent – the countdown toward Jesus’ birth, etc. Elf on the Shelf is tradition that we’ve started just for the fun of it. We don’t put a lot of stock in the idea that the Elf is reporting behavior back to Santa. But the boys LOVE searching for him every morning. (His name is Secret Agent Acorn Bubba-Louie…crazy name, I know, long story…) – Kiley F. Rochester, NY

My mother works in a Christmas Shop so our Elf is very seasoned. I was enthusiastic and thought it was a cute idea but as the years have passed my mind has changed. I enjoy pretending but I despise lying. I feel, even though Elf on the Shelf is festive, it is one more thing to worry about during and already busy season and one more reason to lie to my kids daily. – Elizabeth N.

I’m Jewish but we have an elf. Guess you could say I’m a bad jew. But it is a great way to remind the kids to behave during the holidays. And it’s fun to wake up each morning and watch them hunt for Earl. – Becca B. Charlotte, NC.

I don’t have one, just recently learned of the story. While I think in concept it seems innocent and quaint, I think Elf needs a makeover. His face simply reminds me more of a horror flick character than a sweet holiday tradition doll. I’d imagine seeing that face pop up in different spots of the house, esp. at night, might give us nightmares when Sugar plums should be dancing in our heads. – Rajean B.

In the past month this perfect complexion, highly fit über flexible and above all mute elf has brought peace to my household. Bedtime is never a challenge, bath time is like going to the playground and dinner is always like a basket of sweets for my daughter. I have never once thought of it as lying as just like millions of families all over the world my child believes in Santa Claus. If telling my daughter that some little doll has the ability to talk to Santa then i will need to find a way to write Rudolph Frosty the Easter bunny and the muppets out the script. – Christopher W. Charlotte, NC.

Barnaby Elf on the Shelf

Kelley C.'s Elf Barnaby giving a few pre-Christmas gifts for good behavior

We are just very “Santa Light” in our house focusing on advent and things that I don’t have to manipulate on a daily basis. – Valerie R.

I loved the idea of having to find him each day. But when I learned the story that the elf is a spy and ‘watching’ you it creeped me out. I also don’t care for the doll. We’ll focus on other traditions in my house.Andrea U.

I think we are going to be a Santa light family, so no elf for us. He totally gives me the heeby jeebies anyway. But I do have friend who has very spirited children and it works for them as far as helping with behavior. – Erin L. 

I heard that the elf watches whatever your child is doing. That would freak me out. Faith G.

This is the first year I tried it. The boys like looking for him (when I remember to move him) but it does jack squat on improving their behavior. – Emily V.


So there you have it, both sides of The Elf on the Shelf coin. What are your two cents?  

Thanks to everyone who gave me a quote, I loved your willingness to be referenced on my site.

Do you own an Elf on the Shelf?

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Jennifer Bullock

MommyB Knows Best is a family friendly website that features fun tips and tricks for parents, fresh segments you won't see on other websites, honest in-depth product reviews, and great giveaways. For more information about MommyB and MBKB check out the MommyB Is page.

7 CommentsLeave a comment

  • The elf is just a fun tradition in my house. My kids have fun looking for him and we don’t go over board making him do mischievous little deeds. My daughter even leaves little notes for the elf to give to Santa. I think it’s good for the kid’s imaginations nothing wrong with that. It’s kinda like after Toy Story came out my kids really thought their toys came to life when they left the room or were asleep. I don’t think the Elf is creepy at all nor do my kids and we’ll continue to keep this little guy for a while. I remember knowing Santa wasn’t real as a kid and it didn’t devastate me or make me believe in Jesus any less. It just went along with all other make believe things in my life like the Easter Bunny and cartoon characters.

  • My daughter just turned four, and I’m considering getting one.

    We definitely do Santa, but do NOT do the “better watch out / naughty or nice” business.

    I do think the Elf’s face is sort of creepy in a vintage kind of way, and I do think the whole “spying on their behavior” thing is a little creepy, but it just looks like so much fun to hide / find him!

    Also, most of our friends are doing the Elf thing, so I’m concerned that now that my daughter is older and talks with the other kids, she may start to wonder why all her friends have an Elf and she doesn’t.

    So, I’m thinking about getting one, but highly modifying the story, to totally leave out the behavior aspects, and maybe say that he’s just here to enjoy the season with us, and to let Santa know what kind of fun thing she’s doing, and maybe what kinds of gifts she wants for Christmas.

  • I am 11 and have a elf on the shelf.
    It scares the heck out of me.
    The elf was in my family room, on the couch, and I almost sat on it! (But I screamed of terror and surprise!)
    Yes, the elf on the shelf is a great tradition for families across the USA. But you got to admit, it is one creepy looking elf. I mean, no arms, or legs, and it comes around at night when kids are sleeping? I don’t think so. The mischevious grin and chilling eyes scare me the most. If I was four, I wouldn’t be able to sleep because of that elf. One day last year, I was watching TV for about an hour! And guess who I find directly next to the TV? My elf on the shelf, of course. I mean, I’m only 11, but gosh, that elf is scary. The elf is basically a tattle tale inside your house. He goes to the North Pole, tattles on kids about there behavior, and comes back everyday in a new spot. And the elf is supposed to be your FRIEND.
    I mean, doesn’t that all seem a little um… SUSPICIOUS????
    This Christmas tradition is surely a creepy one, and an unforgettable one.
    Even my dog is scared of the elf!
    The elfwas on the poor thing’s cage!

    I don’t know about that creepy elf on the shelf. I just don’t know. A tattling elf in the house who tattles on the kids? And is supposedly there best elf FRIEND??????
    It’s just so puzzling. I mean, just look at the thing. It’s chilling. When I was 7, I had nightmares the elf would come into my room in the middle of the night. And elf on the shelf (I know I’ve said this several times) is supposed to be your FRIEND!!!
    Alright, this puzzling elf is never up to any good. And isn’t so good for the children like me!

    Casey K.

  • We are Catholic so we actually tied Santa into the whole Advent/Reason for the season. The kids are still a little young to understand the story of St. Nicholas but we started with the birth of Jesus and how the 3 wise men each brought baby Jesus a gift and so on Christmas each child gets 3 gifts from Mom and Dad to represent the gifts baby Jesus received when he was born. Then we told them who St. Nicholas was (leaving money for those in need during rough winter months) and how through the memory of the day Jesus was born he developed into todays Santa Clause. So right now while they are young they think that Santa was a regular guy who became magic because of his need to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We did get an elf this year, I thought it would be fun. And Christmas is so exciting that the kids get carried away and need reminders of why we even have Christmas and I think our elf does that. Sure, I could just say to them “Remember to make good choices” and it would probably all be fine but why not make it fun! I know there are a lot of skeptics out there who have very good reasons for not owning an elf and that is fine for your family but it just adds to the enjoyment of Christmas for us! Plus I tell my kids all the time that God is watching them when they make good and bad choices so it is really no different!

  • My children’s step mother is a very controlling person who only rewards or loves my children when they do what she wants them to do. It scares me that my young Grandson is even exposed to her and she has the elf of course. I think that this could be used in a fun and innocent way but has a great potential for abuse. This is an example of further commercial exploitation of the meaning of Christmas which is a season that should be filled with joy not a spying fake elf. I think it is hideous looking and will never be in my home.

  • I don’t think you know what you’re talking about because we have elf on a shelfs that are at least 50 years old. A mouse chewed one and it was stuffed wit shredded Korean news papers. This craze may have gained popularity recently but the elves today are exact copies of old elves from Japan that say elf on the shwlf on the tag.

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