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Allow me to introduce Jack, our Elf on the Shelf.

(Or in this case, the Elf on the Candleholder, which is where he made his appearance this morning.)

Jack, whose name was chosen by my kids, did his first ‘tour of duty’ in our home about 4 years ago (I think). The story behind this little guy (as explained in the book that be brings with him) is that he is sent from the North Pole by Santa, to be Santa’s ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ and keep track of who’s been naughty, and who’s been nice. Each evening, while we all are sleeping, Jack flies back to the North Pole, using his special Elf magic, and he gives Santa his report. Then he reappears the next morning, only in a different spot from the day before. Half the fun of the Elf is finding him the next morning; he’s been known to reappear in some pretty clever places.

Jack shows up every year now on the day after Thanksgiving. He’s become as much a part of our holiday traditions as the Christmas tree, and last year, I think the Elf singlehandedly saved Christmas for us. How so?

Well, last year, at the age of 8, Carsten had arrived at the Age of Skepticism, and he had a very bad case of the Doubts. There was much chatter going on among his friends at school about whether or not Santa is ‘real,’ with the kids who already knew the truth delighting in revealing how much they knew to the ones still believed. This was really eating at Carsten, and finally one day, he came home and all but pounded his fist on the kitchen table and demanded to know The Truth.

When he finally asked me, point blank, if Santa was real or not, his sister was sitting right in front of us, and Anna believed in Santa as much as she believes that all of her stuffed animals have feelings. I didn’t want to lie, but no way was I going to spoil it for Anna by admitting anything. And truthfully? I really wasn’t ready for the game to be over. I really wasn’t ready to have our first Christmas when our kids did not believe. ((Sigh))

So, instead of answering one way or the other, I asked Carsten what he believed. I told him it didn’t matter what his friends believed. What mattered was, did he believe that Santa was real? This only seemed to make things worse, however: Carsten was asking a question, and he wanted a concrete answer. The trouble was, I just couldn’t give him one right then, and I secretly hoped my evasiveness would just make the issue go away.

Our problem was solved shortly thereafter, though, when a few days after our exchange, the Elf once again made his appearance in our home. The first morning that the kids came downstairs and found him, Carsten marched right up to him, and immediately began talking to him and telling him what was on his Christmas list. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe he wanted to believe that Santa was real just as much as I still wanted him to. I don’t know for sure. But after that, we never discussed Santa’s existence again.

It’s a new year now, though, and Carsten’s another year older. He will be 10 in a month. I know there are lots of kids his age who no longer believe in Santa, and I suspect the chatter at school will once again soon resume. Only time will tell if the Elf still has enough magic to buy us another year.

For as much as I am enjoying the special brand of magic that the Elf brings to our holidays, I have to admit, though, that it’s not always an entirely bad thing when we finally say goodbye to our Elf on Christmas Eve (which is when he makes his final trip of the season back to the North Pole).  Why? Because Noel and I have to remember to move that crazy Elf every. single. night. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve already been in bed, half asleep, when one of us will suddenly bolt up and say, “Oh sh*t!! The Elf!!” And then we draw straws to see who has to get out of bed and go move him.

Worse, though, are the nights when we completely forget to move him, and we only realize it the next morning when one of the kids says “Hey! The Elf! He didn’t move!” And then we have to concoct some story about why the Elf is in the same spot — usually we blame it on the weather, telling the kids that the Elf can’t travel in bad conditions (yes, even in spite of traveling by ‘magic’). So far, it’s seemed plausible. After a month or so of keeping up this charade, and panicking when we screw up, Noel and I are usually quite ready to send the Elf back to live at the North Pole for another year.

It takes some work, keeping the magic alive, but in the end I guess it’s worth it. Anna, especially, just loves that thing. She clapped her hands and jumped up and down when she found him this morning, and she folded up her Christmas list and placed it next to Jack, so he can deliver it to Santa tonight (I know! Sweet, right?!). She also wrote him a special note this morning, and tucked it behind him, right next to her wish list. I suspect Jack is going to have a few more years of service for this kid before he can officially retire — or so I hope, at least. Besides, we need him to stick around for at least a little while longer, because the notion of being ‘watched’ by one of Santa’s very own can keep these two in line like you wouldn’t believe. And that may be the best magic yet!

Welcome back, Jack!

If you think your home needs an Elf on the Shelf, you can find one at the official Elf on the Shelf website. (Turn your volume down before clicking the link however; loud, happy music greets you at the site! Sorry!)