“Around Christmas time we would decorate the house, and one of the decorations was this little elf, and it was supposedly watching for Santa, and it would move every morning, or every week or so, to a different spot in the house. I believed in it at first but then I started becoming the one who moved it, because my parents stopped. I don’t know how to word that right, but I became God. I’ll probably do it again for my kids because it’s fun. And not at all religious. My best friend also did it and we bonded over how we used to think it was real. And I know it’s a pretty common thing where I was and probably in lots of the rest of America.”
Background: My informant, AB, likes Elf on the Shelf mostly because it is innocent fun. She picked it up from her parents and family, who in turn found it either from friends or from the physical elf product.
Her comment that she would carry on the tradition not only because it’s fun, but because it’s not religious in her view, is interesting. She made this comment in part because, although AB was raised Christian, she has become agnostic and disillusioned with organized religion. She takes more interest in astrology and various magical traditions than in any institutional faith. However, though the Elf on the Shelf tradition may not be explicitly religious, and certainly is not biblical in the manner of many other Christmas traditions, it is nevertheless connected with a primarily Christian holiday.
However, even Christmas has roots in other, “pagan,” winter traditions, including the celebration of the solstice. Traditions which disregard the official, Biblical elements of Christmas and incorporate informal games are common around this time, including the Christmas Pickle and various forms of gift swap events.