Hartley: The dread affliction of Elves on your Shelves

Todd Hartley
I’m With Stupid

I realize this is going to sound like the Grinchiest thing ever, but I cannot wait for the holiday season to finally end so I can be rid of the infernal Elf on the Shelf that first darkened our home last yuletide. His name is Fred, and the sooner he packs his bags and disappears for another spring, summer and fall, the happier I will be.

If you’re not familiar with elves on the shelves, they’re supposed to be plush dolls that you buy and then set somewhere in your house for your child to find. However, through my own stupidity, the elf we got, Fred, ended up being an unposable, hard-rubber elf that looks like it’s squatting on the toilet. It didn’t seem to matter, though; my son loved it anyway, and was thrilled when it first showed up.

The concept seems innocuous enough, I know. Where’s the harm in putting an elf somewhere in your house to ramp up the Christmas spirit, right? But don’t be fooled. The elves soon take on a life of their own and make your life a living hell.

I was under the impression, going into the whole thing, that once you’d bought the elf and put it somewhere, it stayed there like a decoration. Apparently, that’s not the case, according to my son’s friend across the street who has an elf named Xavier. I was told Fred needed to move to a different place every day, and he had to be moved in such a way that my son would think he’d moved on his own.

This soon morphed into Fred needing to be moved several times a day, lest my son be disappointed and think his elf inferior to his friend’s. I rose to the challenge, but I did such a good job of moving him surreptitiously that my son decided to set up video surveillance to see if he could catch Fred moving.

So now I had to rig up some kind of invisible way of making Fred move on camera, which I did. You can see the results on YouTube by searching for “Elf on the Shelf Caught Jumping Off Shelf.” It’s not exactly convincing footage, but it worked for a 7-year-old.

The next day, I was told that Xavier was leaving my son’s friend notes, which meant that Fred needed to start leaving my son notes every time he moved. Then, shortly thereafter, Fred was joined by a paper elf my son made named James, necessitating two notes with every move for the latter half of December.

Mercifully, last holiday season finally ended, Fred disappeared and James went back to being inanimate. But Xavier continued to make appearances across the street through the spring, causing my son to wish aloud for Fred to do the same. I remained steadfast, however, and the only time we saw Fred was for a brief visit on half-Christmas, June 25.

That bought me a few months, but right after Halloween, the wondering aloud when Fred was coming back began in earnest. I told my son that he probably shouldn’t expect Fred until December, but this did little to get him to drop the subject. Fred and his whereabouts remained a huge topic of my son’s conversation.

Fred re-emerged, as predicted, on Dec. 1. The multiple moves every day and the notes began again. Then one day, I came down to breakfast to find a stuffed potato doll with a note from my son saying, “Fred, can you make this stuffed potato alive?” So then Fred and the potato, whose name is Chip, both needed moving.

A few days later, I found James the paper elf with a note asking Fred to bring him to life, as well. He has now joined the entourage, as I expected he eventually would. The capper, however, came just two days ago when I found a stuffed kitten (Kitty) with a note asking Fred to animate him, as well.

So, now, several times a day, I have to move two elves, a potato and a kitten to some clever location and pose them in a fun way, and then I have to come up with some sort of witty note for the four of them to write to my son. If I fail to do it, my son immediately gets bummed out and starts doubting the very concept of Christmas.

I could go on, but right now I have to get up and go move the stupid elf and his friends again.

Todd Hartley wishes you a merry Christmas and an elf-free new year. To read more or leave a comment, visit


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