Elf on the Shelf in the Classroom — Yea or Nay?

We don’t have an elf on the shelf mainly because I need another thing to do this holiday season like I need more stuffed animals in my kids’ rooms. I have four kids ages 7 and under. If I can get them all in bed in time to watch an episode of Doctor Who on Netflix, I call it a win. The tooth fairy has almost forgotten her duties several times already and I don’t think an elf of ours would fair much better. Seriously, parents…why do you want to make more messes for you to clean up…do you need more kids? Want to borrow one of mine?

My daughter thinks that if she wishes on a star Santa will send us one. Sorry kid, blame Jiminy Cricket.

Before you call CPS on me, however, my kids will not be deprived of this wacky new tradition because their classrooms have their very own elves.

I was a little surprised to find out that my kid’s class had adopted (is that the proper EotS terminology? I am a newbie at this…) an elf. Let me be clear before I get fried in the flames of the Internet…I said, “surprised,” not “incensed” or even “concerned.”

So, I did some research (i.e. I asked my friends on Facebook and looked at the first page of results in a Google search…totally New York Times standards of journalism going on in here).

I wasn’t surprised to find it was a controversial issue. Before anyone starts with the “don’t we have bigger things to worry about” please remember that you are reading a BLOG…a blog called “Sparkle Mommy”…written during nap times and in between work projects and umpteen readings of the Berenstain Bears and cleaning up massive quantities of infant spit up. If you are reading my blog or commenting on Facebook, you are also not off saving the world. So, as the real reason for Christmas pointed out…glass houses…stone throwing…don’t mix.

Although, maybe we should all take a moment to be grateful there is no version of Zwarte Piet in the United States. I’ll wait while you reassemble the exploded pieces of your brain.


In the pro-elf camp, sprites just wanna have fun, you know? Like everything that doesn’t contain actual Jesus, there’s a solid point to be made that Elf on the Shelf is secular. I’m pretty sure elves are well outside the religious teachings of the church.

On the other hand, the elf on the shelf is clearly no run of the mill pagan little folk. Although leprechauns trash up the place on St. Patrick’s Day, they don’t really have any connection to the saint. If an elf reports back to Santa, his boss is a saint…nothing ambiguous about that.

However, I do know non-Christians who consider Santa so far separated from Saint Nicolas that he’s fair game for everyone in December. A jolly fat man in a red suit who lives at the North Pole with reindeer and elves bears as much relation to the birth of Jesus or a Fourth Century bishop as he does to, oh, say, Odin…and possibly less.

For that matter, what do pixies and green food (or getting drunk for the non-child-minding adults) have to do with Saint Patrick? Although he is a Christian Saint, his day clearly has become a secular celebration of Irish and faux-Irish heritage in the United States and no one objects to the wearin’ o’ the green on March 17th in our schools. Dear old Santa took his name from a Christian saint but the modern traditions surrounding him are not really religious.

Modern, Western Christian celebrations have absorbed all manner of symbols secular, pagan, and otherwise–are we really going to say that images of evergreen trees, burning logs, shamrocks, and hearts are suddenly for Christians only? What’s left, then? “Here kid, have a snowflake.”

For others, this is part of the problem–symptomatic of the commercialization of our culture. Elves in the classroom is a brilliant marketing ploy. My kids’ occasional mention of the elf on the shelf has now become a full-court dual parent press for us to adopt. Then again, if I really care about avoiding all commercialization, I would have to homeschool…or send them to a Waldorf school where they could be indoctrinated in the wonders of non-commercialized elves, fairies, and gnomes.

Speaking of pixies, I wouldn’t be surprised to see conservative Christians objecting to teaching little kids that a tiny magical creature appears during the Advent season. The fact that traditions surrounding the celebration of the birth of Jesus are now widely regarded as secular speaks to the extent to which Christmas has become more about the almighty dollar than about the Almighty.

Other parents are okay with merry little secular tricksters but are creeped out by the idea of the classroom elf as Orwellian spy. A lot depends on how the teacher frames it, I guess. Would it confuse kids that their classroom elf just wants to rearrange their seats and leave messages in staples while their home elf keeps them in line with threats of tattling to Santa?

What do you think? Are elves in the classroom just a bit of fun before the “winter” break or insensitive to those who do not celebrate Christmas?

Either way, bless (with a non-denominational, secular blessing) the teachers who have taken it on themselves to bring a little seasonal magic into the classroom and clean up after these pint-sized minions of Santa. I hear they are quite mischievous.

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  1. katyjane says:

    I’m on the fence about this one also. It isn’t happening in my kids’ classes (as far as I know, anyway), but I don’t think I’d like it if it was. While I agree that it’s mostly harmless, I just don’t see the point of doing it. With teachers having to spend so much more time preparing lesson plans for common core (poorly written ones if what I’ve seen is any indication), it seems like adding more nonsense to the day is just taking away from quality time the teachers could have.

    We do not have an Elf on the Shelf, because I don’t really understand the point of it, and because I’m sure I would forget to do it, as well as not needing any more responsibilities.

    But, also, I think there is too much commercialization already being thrust in our kids’ faces all the time. While to some extent that’s unavoidable, I don’t see why one would increase it when there’s no good reason for it. I think the reason it would bother me most is the commercial aspect to it. When my daughter’s kindergarten class spent the first couple of weeks of school looking for the missing gingerbread man, it was generic and didn’t bother me (and was a good way to let kids explore the school building and meet the other grown ups in the school, as they received clues about the gingerbread man’s whereabouts from the principal, the cafeteria workers, the nurse, etc.).

  2. Heather W says:

    Being that my family is Jewish, I have no problem with the teacher bringing a little bit of each winter holiday into the classroom – I went into my son’s class to teach a lesson on Chanukah. A few stories about Christmas, even making an art project or a gingerbread house is fine with me, but this elf…. I guess that since the elves at home are reporting back to Santa, I’d be afraid of this opening a whole can of worms. We could say that this elf has nothing to do with Jesus, but it has become associated with Christmas, just as the Christmas tree and stocking has. To have an elf in the classroom every day in the month of December making mischeif – I feel like it’s too much. And my baby is screaming right now so I can’t focus on a solid thought at the moment anyway.

    • Candace says:

      I think the first part of your comment addresses the difference between teaching ABOUT traditions versus actually adopting/practicing those traditions. And I agree, a daily activity encouraging belief is practicing, not learning about. So, it all hinges on the second part: whether or not it is religious in nature.

  3. tricia says:

    think you raise some interesting points/correlations about how the Elf could bear religious significance- I view him as commercially secular and as something that just makes kids giddy. If a teacher wanted to surprise kids with chalkboard footprints or knocked over pencil erasers in the morning, I wouldn’t mind. Speaking of all this reminds me that I need to remember where I put our own elf. I think he may be where I left him last January. Just knocked over and out of sight.