I refused to get an Elf on the Shelf. The pandemic changed my mind, and it's now my family's favorite holiday tradition.

·3 min read
Elf on the Shelf figures are piled in a box
John Bazemore/AP
  • I'm a working mom with four boys under the age of seven.

  • I refused to get an Elf on the Shelf for years. I already had too much to do during the holidays.

  • Many of our traditions disappeared due to COVID-19, like meeting Santa, so I went with the elf.

It's 10 p.m., and I'm making a miniature fishing pole out of a kebab skewer, a piece of string, and an ornament hook.

Tonight, our Elf on the Shelf will be reeling in a Goldfish cracker. I marvel at how cute the scene looks and picture my boys' reactions in the morning.

A few weeks earlier, I'd been adamant I'd never get an Elf on the Shelf. As a working mom with four boys under seven, I already had enough on my to-do list. And since my generation didn't grow up with the tradition, I didn't feel pressure to recreate that kind of Christmas magic for my kids.

According to the story written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chandra Bell, the elf observes children and reports their behavior to Santa. When the imp returns from the North Pole each morning, he finds a new perch, meaning parents must move the elf every night. Thanks to Pinterest, some kids wake up to elaborate scenes.

My kids learned about Elf on the Shelf at school. Because their friends had elves at home, they talked about their antics. My kindergartener told us about how an Elf on the Shelf gave his classmate's dad a pedicure while he slept.

When I saw my four-year-old fall to the floor laughing, I considered reneging on my anti-elf stance.

The pandemic took away many of our holiday traditions

In 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, my family couldn't spend the holidays with grandparents. Instead of visiting Santa in person, we saw him over Zoom. I knew that missing my traditions was trivial compared to the suffering many people endured during the pandemic. But I want my boys to have happy holiday recollections, and I wanted to have those experiences with them. I worried that in the memory banks of family fun, the year would be vacant.

When I had my change of heart, the elves were sold out, so I bought a knock-off. When my six-year-old son spotted him on our mantle, his mouth hung open in disbelief. From that day on, the boys, who I normally wake from a deep sleep for school, jumped out of bed to find the elf they named "Christmas Max."

A few days into having Max, I realized he provided much-needed excitement.

When each day was a replica of the one before, his little actions punctuated our routine, making one day different from the next. Searching for him began our mornings on a festive note. My two-year-old twins chased their brothers around the house looking for Max. They all high-fived when they found him.

When I noticed he was making our family's spirits brighter, I went all-in, getting more adventurous with the ways my kids discovered him. Max used M&Ms to spell out messages from Santa. He had a mini marshmallow snowball fight with our Spiderman action figure and used a Sharpie to put minion faces on our bananas.

The night I overheard the boys talking from their bunk beds, wondering aloud where Max would be tomorrow, I knew he'd come back next Christmas, too.

My favorite part about the elf is that we made it our own. We don't follow all the "rules" in the book, and I don't think of Max as Santa's spy but as an opportunity for joy. I keep what he does simple, always using items I have at home. And the days he just moves from one location to the next, with no silly antics, my kids still enjoy finding him.

This year, we'll see family for the holidays and Santa in person, but Christmas Max will be back too.

Jessica Wozinsky Fleming is a writer and mom of four young sons. Find her online at jessica-fleming.com or @JessicaKFleming.

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