It used to be so easy for parents to keep their kids in line around the holidays.
If a kid was pummeling their sibling or just being a general pain, all Mom or Dad had to say was "Santa's watching."
After all, we knew the song by heart. As children, we were conditioned that Santa knew when we were sleeping. He knew when we were awake. He knew if we'd been bad or good, so we had to be good, for goodness sake. Doing these things were imperative if you wanted Santa Claus to come to town.
"Santa" has been around for nearly 200 years. We're led to believe as children that this big guy zipped around the world on Christmas Eve on a reindeer-driven sleigh, popping up and down chimneys to deliver gifts to all of the good little boys and girls. For the first 10 or so years of our lives, we believe this.
Eventually, we get old enough to figure out that Santa is not the real deal. Our parents basically were lying to us the entire time.
In the past several years, another layer to the Santa Claus myth has been added. Evidently, old St. Nick was having trouble keeping track of who was being naughty and who was being nice, so he had to call in a special agent with the National Security Agency.
At least that's how the "Elf on the Shelf" story goes.
I haven't read the story, which was published in 2005, or watched the TV special. The elf is so big these days that it has its own spot in Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.
According to Wikipedia, the plot of the story is that the elf's main job is to watch over the kids during the holidays. They watch the kids during the day and return to the North Pole every night to give details overnight to report the behavior to Santa Claus.
A quick Skype session would seem to be easier than all of that travel each night, but maybe that technology hasn't reached the North Pole. It's probably tough to get WiFi up there.
After shelling out $30 for a book and an elf, each family gives its elf a name and he becomes part of the family from the day after Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve. All of the kids love the elf. After all, he's their ticket to good toys.
There's one huge rule: If kids touch the elf, he loses his magic. And if the elf loses his magic, then the chances that the little ones will get a visit from Santa go right into the dumper.
Having an elf sounds like a lot of work. The parents can't just let the elf sit on a shelf for weeks on end. The elf has to move around the house.
Many parents like to make the elf do silly things around the house. It won't take you long to if you use social media to see an elf pop up in your feed as families often post their elf's antics. Others will have their elf do things that may be a bit more risque. I've seen the elf posed as if it had just finished a night of drinking. I've also seen a photo of an elf where he is trying to hit on Barbie. Plenty of elf shenanigans are on the Internet if you want to search.
Thankfully, there is no elf in our house. Our 9-year-old is just about ready to figure out the whole Santa thing. Actually, I think the Santa gig's already up for him, but he's still going through the motions. He thinks the elf is creepy. At this point, we certainly couldn't sell him on the whole idea that the elf is reporting on him every night.
It helps that we don't promote the "Tooth Fairy" or the "Easter Bunny" in our house, either.
The elf may be harmless fun to some, but it is really necessary for parents to add the elf lie on top of the Santa myth?
It's a question parents should probably be asking themselves.