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Now that we've rounded the corner on Thanksgiving in the US, and are heading straight into Christmas/Yuletide/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa, it's time to introduce a friend of mine. This is Gingerbread. Okay, this is a shot from the amazon.com website for Elf on the Shelf, but that's still Gingerbread. He comes to our house every year between Thanksgiving and Christmas... and behaves very oddly for an Elf on the Shelf.
The gist of Elf on the Shelf is that the little bugger moves around the house, making the occasional mischief, and he reports to Santa nightly on the behavior of the child he is watching. You may not touch him, ever, or he loses his magic, and you risk Santa not coming. He comes with a storybook, and is incredibly creepy to look at - or have looking at you.
Gingerbread, however, is a little different. Honestly, that's par for the course around here. Gingerbread comes to our house to play. Full stop. He's not a conduit for Santa, he's not watching anything but where to put his next bit of elven magic. We've never read the story. Mad Natter loves to play with Gingerbread, including sitting him inside a Spider-Man car one year, and racing him around the house.
I tend to find the original intention of Elf on the Shelf kind of creepy. I mean, a random doll animates when you're sleeping, spies on you, and in the night runs off to tell The Big Man what you're doing all day. And, as if that's not enough, that little doll carries with it the possibility of cancelling Christmas. That's just damn creepy. Which is why I like our way much better. You see, I was... I don't remember how old I was, but I remember what house we lived in at the time, and that meant I was under the age of nine. It was coming up on Christmas. We were so excited. I remember what was probably the same sort of running Mad Natter does every time he gets too wound up, and I remember starting to spin out of control, and taking my brother with me. And then I remember finding coal in our stockings. To this day, coming up on thirty years later, I remember the feeling in my chest when I found it. I remember thinking that I had done something horrible. So terrible that I had been given coal in my stocking, and Santa might not come. I'm tearing up just with the memory of how horrible I felt, and how worthless, and how bad I thought I was - not poorly behaved, but bad.
Looking back on it, I understand the point. I understand what the message was supposed to have been. But I still experience what the message I actually got was, and it's part of the reason I always laugh off "is he a good baby" with "well, he hasn't knocked over any banks this week, so I'm going to say 'yes.'" Our children are so much more fragile than we think they are - even while they're incredibly more resilient. And the last thing I ever want to do is to give Mad Natter that same feeling in his chest as I had that cold morning. So Gingerbread comes to play. He reports on nothing. He gets up to no good in the night, it's very funny, and it's harmless, and there is no "Santa is watching" and no chance that Santa will ever not bring him presents - he is a good boy, a good person, and of course Santa will bring him a gift - that's what Santa does, he brings gifts to good children.
Sharing holiday magic is really a lot of fun. Sharing holiday magic without the "or else" hanging overhead like the Sword of Damocles is even better.