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“Keeping up the charade every December is exhausting. Choose one, kids: Elf on the Shelf or Dinner on the Table.”

Photo: Elf on the Shelf

“You see, kids, we light the candles on the menorah for eight days because Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights.”

My husband looks at me skeptically, and glances at the Christmas tree in the corner of the living room, blinding us with the 7,000 or so watts blasting from its perfectly trimmed branches.

There’s no competing. In our mixed Judeo-Christian family, we try to mash up the holidays and give both Hanukkah and Christmas a place of importance in our kids’ lives, but until a Hanukkah Armadillo actually marches in with chocolate coins to bestow upon the good little boys and girls, Hanukkah will always be eclipsed by a jolly fat man with a sack of toys.

But the merging of cultures means new traditions right? We have the wonderful ability to pick and choose from the buffet of options to create holidays that are modern, special and uniquely our own.

Llama-shaped menorah and candles? Check. Fake Christmas tree decorated purely for style in ombre tones? Check. Latkes? Check. Comfort and joy? Sure, why not? Giant turkey dinner for 25 with all the fixings? Check, check, check.

Elf on the Shelf? Not on your life.

For those of you lucky souls not quite familiar with it, The Elf on the Shelf is one of ye olde Yuletide traditions invented way back in 2005. He’s a little guy apparently sent from the North Pole to play a month-long game of hide-and-seek with your kids, during which folly he collects intel on said kids’ behavior to relay back to Santa to—what? Ensure that the kid isn’t placed on the naughty list and at risk of getting nothing but the fidget spinner they stopped asking for six months ago in their stocking? Even your toddler knows this is never going to happen.

Where the mischievous Elf hides varies, but I hear they prefer places like slow-cookers full of mini marshmallows, being tucked into toilet paper rolls artfully tossed down the stairs, and in your nightmares at 4 am when you bolt awake, realizing you forgot to hide the little nugget of joy.

   Illustration of an Elf on the Shelf doll hugging a gingerbread cookie while unconscious from a sugar coma

I’m familiar with the argument that the Elf helps to make the Christmas season magical but to this mother, who got chocolate raisins and hand-knit slippers for Hanukkah every year, the argument smacks pretty highly of a level of privilege I’m truly trying to check. Listen, I’m someone who told my kids straight-up that Grandma is their Santa. And yet, they believe in spite of me—after all, the evidence is right there, under Grandma’s tree in the way of gifts labeled quite clearly, ‘From Santa’, and exactly who drank that milk last night? This is more than enough magic for our family.

It’s fatiguing enough for me to deal with the domination of the Elf on social media channels every December. An endless stream of Instagram stories, Facebook groups, Pinterest boards and Twitter posts, all bolstered by store-bought accessories, books and holiday television specials—and now a growing network of parents (mostly mothers) frantically trying to find a way out of the Elf tradition because keeping up the charade every December is exhausting. Choose one, kids: Elf on the Shelf or Dinner on the Table.

Just today I saw a “promotion” letter an Elf wrote to a family explaining that they have been called back to Santa’s workshop to oversee a new branch of the toy-making empire. Well played, mom, you’re off the hook, but I can’t imagine cultivating a world where I have to dream up an out like that rather than risk the disappointment I spent years setting my children up for. By the time I spend their college fund on a new master bath, will they even have any tears left?

It’s not just Elf on the Shelf. As a blended family, we now ignore a lot of other beautiful traditions as well, like eating Chinese food with Jewish relatives on December 24, or going into crippling debt to put the hottest presents under the tree. I regret that my kids will not experience some of these traditions, but I will never regret barring a freeloading, mess-making, ruddy-cheeked little spy from our home during the busiest month of the year.

I was recently describing to my sister the Advent calendars I bought my children for Hanukkah (um, traditions!?), when I got a text from my mother. I will spare you the typos but essentially it said, Karen! I found the perfect gift for the kids! And to my horror, there was a link to Mensch on the Bench, wide eyes bearing into me with the full weight of 5,778 years of Jewish guilt behind them. What? that stare said. Is it too much to bring a little Hanukkah magic to your children’s’ lives?

Oy vey, I thought, before deleting the message—and Merry Christmas!

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