You better watch out – your Elf is watching!

The Elf on the Shelf has been a part of our family tradition for the last five years. When I pull out the box with the Elf and the book, I admire the genius who came up with the Elf as an easy way to remind kids to make smart choices – because the Elf is watching you! I appreciate the extra incentive for them. (Fair warning – too much sugar is still too much sugar – the Elf has not successfully tamed that beast in our house.)

You may already know the idea of the Elf. Position it someplace in the house to watch the children and the Elf will fly home each night to report their behavior back to Santa. When the kids wake up in the morning, the Elf is in a new spot. This typically starts out as fun and games – the challenge is keeping it that way. My creative muscles sometimes struggle with finding a new spot for Cookie, our Elf.

The first challenge is making sure the kids are asleep. Really asleep, not just quietly in bed. It’s not unusual for our kids to go to bed and then wander out 30 minutes or an hour later, while we are still up, and declare they can’t sleep, wildly looking around to see what fun mom and dad are having. (Usually domestic duties – the kids do not get excited or jealous about this. Only when we’re watching a movie do they declare how unfair bedtime is.)

The second challenge is remembering to actually move Cookie. This year I’m relying on a daily smartphone alarm. I decided on this route after forgetting to move Cookie the first night and he/she (we can’t decide) spent two nights on top of the dryer. Elf purgatory, no doubt. The worst part is when the kids found Cookie in the same spot, Ayla told Jude that it was because he had touched the Elf’s leg the day before and wiped away the magic. Jude was devastated that he had robbed Cookie of the ability to fly home to the North Pole that night. Cue mommy for a little damage control and we were all able to move on.

Overall, my husband and I have made some memories with Cookie. We’ve had fun coming up with places to put our little Christmas peeping Tom so as not to interfere with our daily routine.

But this year, I’ve been thinking about what Christmas will start to feel like as the kids figure this all out. My seven year old will likely nail down the scoop behind the Christmas magic first. Unable to keep important information to herself, if she doesn’t tell me she’ll tell her brother.

The nostalgic journalist in me, attempting to document our daily lives, is determined to capture the essence of the holidays on paper. Imagine my surprise when I pulled out my Christmas journal and realized that of all things, I have not yet written about Cookie. Five years and not a word? This needs to be remedied! For the sake of time I decided to go with a simple list of places we’ve put Cookie over the years. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Taking a bath in a bowl of marshmallows
2. On the counter surrounded by sprinkled sugar or flour
3. In the wine rack
4. Sitting on a decorative reindeer going for a ride
5. Attached to the window blind with head and hands sticking out
6. In a shoe left by the door (I was worried Cookie would smell after this – he/she didn’t)
7. Admiring the art (“but Cookie’s really watching YOU” I tell the kids)
8. In the fridge
9. Sitting in front of the nativity
10. Lowering down from a chandelier with a rope made of yarn
11. Stars Wars Elves with friends – last year we traveled for Christmas and stayed with our friends, who also have an Elf. We gave Cookie a necklace to tell them apart and one morning, the Elves were on a table with Lego light sabers in hand and a note for the kids announcing that Daddy was going to take them to see the new Star Wars movie. That was a good day for the mommies!

There will come a day when our holiday traditions and rituals as a family will change. Yours will too. For now we have the present moment and our trusty pens, or keyboards, to create a record of what made this particular holiday season special. And who knows? Maybe someday Cookie will be watching my grandkids. Or maybe Cookie will be watching me…

Sara Marchessault is a writer, publisher, teacher, and mom who is on a mission to increase joy on the planet. Through the practice of self-reflection, we become aware of what brings us joy and what does not, and we make choices to move forward or stand still. Journal writing is a powerful reflection tool that can help any of us move forward, even in the darkest of times. For ideas on how you can get the benefits of journal writing without always keeping a traditional journal, check out Sara’s book, Beyond Pen & Paper: 33 Experiments in Journaling.


  1. suelebreton | 6th Dec 16

    Loved our Elf on the Shelf days- we were early adopters. Then we moved and the Elf was discovered in a drawer- oops, but oddly we still have him as my teens want him perched nearby even though he doesn’t move at night. Our favourite go to excuse when we forgot to move him was the dog must have spooked him again and he’s stayed up high 🙂

    • Sara Marchessault | 10th Jan 17

      I love this so much, Sue! The Elf is put away for now, and we’ll see what happens with it next year.

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