Gather ‘round the oil lamp, draw your dressing gown tight, and listen to ye olde tale of beloved Christmas tradition. After the turkey feast, from the North Pole does fly a little sprite to spy on all the girls and boys, noting their good and bad deeds. He is the Elf of the Shelf. In the dead of night, he creeps back to his dark lord jolly master to snitch. Then he scampers back to his post, hidden in a new location. When dawn breaks, anxious cherubs comb the house, desperate to find him, hoping for a clue about their fortune on Christmas morning. Coal or rocking horse? Socks or an Xbox? Santa’s little helper reveals nothing. He merely grins secretively, his watchful eyes rolled up and to the right, where liars keep them.
Ah yes, it seems only 13 years ago that this yuletide surveillance began, though it feels like it has been with us even as we huddled in caves. But the Elf on the Shelf was created in 2005 out of nothing but the fiendish imaginations of a woman and her two adult daughters. Since its creation, countless households have been held hostage by its sense of tradition.
Think of the guilt a nation of preschoolers must feel when they locate their house elf and, overcome with joy, embrace him. Good going, guys! You just canceled Christmas!
Driving two hours out of the city to chop down your own Christmas tree? Stringing twinkly lights from the gutters? Falling off the ladder while holding a strand of said twinkly lights? Caroling while tipsy? Eating too many sugar cookies? Hurriedly building toys four hours before they will be unwrapped? Those are traditions. This diminutive imbecile who invades your home between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve? Not. A. Tradition.
As evidence, consider the book that comes packaged with the elf. Reading it is as gratifying as reading shampoo ingredients; it exists solely to explain the rules of engagement. Your children must love the elf, they must name the elf, and they must never, ever touch the elf because doing so will extinguish Santa’s magic. Think of the guilt a nation of preschoolers must feel when they locate their house elf and, overcome with joy, embrace him. Good going guys! You just canceled Christmas!
Now consider the elf himself (ha!). The book instructs us to name him, and so I shall. Hello, Stankus. No joyous tradition could be built around the face of Stankus. Stankus has no feet. He may not have hands either — the ends of his arms are covered by thumbless mittens. What the hell is going on in your workshop, Santa? I swear, when Pennywise comes out of the sewer for me, he will bear the form of this elf, stumping down the street, plump-cheeked and pop-eyed. He will part his lips to reveal sharpened fangs, glistening with the blood of children who sneaked a touch.
But wait, there’s more! One doesn’t simply allow Stankus to remain dormant next to the advent candles for weeks on end. No, Stankus must tour the entire square footage of one’s home! All day every day, I complete errands and chores on behalf of my family. They are too numerous and banal to list here, but I can tell you that the addition of just one more obligation conjures within my Grinch heart a furnace of rage. And it’s not enough to move Stankus from the nativity to the cookie jar! A truly loving parent will put real effort into the sojourn of Stankus, as these hundreds of Pinterest humble brags reveal.
I swear, when Pennywise comes out of the sewer for me, he will bear the form of this elf, stumping down the street, plump-cheeked and pop-eyed. He will part his lips to reveal sharpened fangs, glistening with the blood of children who sneaked a touch.
In the end, Stankus is evidence not of a new old-fashioned Christmas tradition, but of a far more important tradition in America: the capitalist tradition. His creators looked at the saturated toy market and thought: How can we get a piece of that sweet Santa action? Stankus is pricey ($30) and customizable to maximize his demographic reach. His murderous eyes can be blue (light skin) or brown (dark skin). He can even be a she. Stankette!
The great thing about capitalism, of course, is that you don’t have to buy the crap that’s being sold to you. You can opt out. If I ever catch Stankus in my house, I’ll tie him to the yule log in the fireplace and cackle while his face melts. Maybe I’ll lie in wait for his compatriots as they fly north to debrief the Creeper in Chief. Maybe I’ll snatch one or two by their stubby little legs and carry them back to my hearth. Maybe I’ll do it every year. Call it tradition.