"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
December 5, 2013
Why There is Still No Elf on My Shelf and I am Not Sorry if You are Offended
by Hannah Bird

I fully intended to write a column this week defending Scrooge. The poor man has had a bad rap for a century and a half. I felt it incumbent upon me to point out that he did actually make some really good points. But then life got in the way.

You see, I recently found out that I am a bad person. And a bad mother. And an awful terrible no-good very bad Mormon.

It was hard news to take, I will admit. But it must be accurate as it has been reported several times over by three or more witnesses. News of my incalculable badness started creeping in on Thanksgiving morning and hasn’t stopped yet.

A year ago I wrote a column about the Elf on the Shelf. I am against. I discussed its flammability. I am for. This year, people began sharing last year’s article. And it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I have made fun of a great many things in my writing. I make fun of life, of all God’s creatures but buffaloes and grizzly in particular. I make fun of tourists, Yellowstone Park, Disney Princesses, all of my loved ones and myself. Mostly myself. And other than a couple of charitable giggles from my near and dear,s my making fun has gone on pretty much unnoticed.

Until I made fun of something the people bought.

The Wild West was a sketchy place, but it did have a code. Part of that code was “ride for the brand.” The brand is the mark you place on your livestock. Riding for the brand meant that when you worked for an outfit you were loyal and true to that brand. You represented your ranch and your brand by what you did. Riding for the brand was a responsibility.

My grandfather had a brand. My husband’s grandfather had a brand. Theirs were both suitably western-looking. Since I run cattle I also have a brand. Mine looks like a smiley face because my husband thinks the weirdest things are funny.

The years since the Wild West have changed our understanding of brands. We have favorite brands. We have brands that we do not like. These brands are on our clothes. They are on our vehicles, our food, our electronics, our toys, and almost everything we touch. We talk about working on our personal brand.

Somewhere along the line we quit branding what we owned and accepted being branded ourselves. Aspirational shopping is the way we live now. We don’t create a life and then purchase the things we need. We purchase the things that we think will create a life that we want.

People are not mad because I made fun of an Elf that looks like Chucky’s not-bright cousin. That Elf is ripe for mockery on every front. They are mad because they bought that Elf with the idea that they were purchasing a tradition, a fun memory for their kids, some Christmas magic.

There is a story behind our family’s silly brand. My husband thought it up. It just happens to be one of our kids’ initials. We had fun figuring it out. That is the story behind the brand I put on cattle.  There are stories behind the brands we put on our lives. But we make those stories up ourselves.

I was chastised by one critic who suggested that I was a mother who “couldn’t measure up” and so tore down other women. So in her story, good mothers buy elves. So committed is she to riding for the brand that she called me a poor representative of LDS culture. And bitter.

That one is fair. I am bitter. “Firefly” was cancelled after one skimpy season, and that horrible show where we all have to watch Ducky be old and unfunny is on its millionth season and has managed to survive the horrors of Charlie Sheen and Ashton Kutcher. But still.

We tell ourselves stories about a fun family tradition. And when someone points out that it is a made-up, store-bought tradition that originated about 20 seconds after someone figured out people would buy it, it conflicts with the way we want to see ourselves and our lives.

I got emails by people shocked that I would be permitted to write so ungracious and unkind a thing. I got an email from a woman claiming that I have done no less than ruin Christmas because her daughter saw my article.

Now I think if your ten-year-old is on Facebook and all she has come across is my warning about the dangers of leering elves, then you should count yourself lucky. But I ruined the story this woman told herself about the elf and wonder and her (not really little) girl.

This is how closely we identify with the things we own. This is why they own us.

There is honor and integrity in riding for the brand. But we are not the riders. When we become beholden to the stories we tell ourselves about our things, we are the cattle.

I will say it again like I did last year.

So put the elf away (I assume they burn beautifully). Be the magic yourself. The minutes you would have spent on a prank are so much better spent with your child. Catch snowflakes on black velvet. Make cocoa when you should all be in bed. Have a slumber party. Draw nativity pictures. Pretend that you don’t really hate Christmas carols and sing along.

Less bought, more you. Because someday you will be out of time. You will want to know that the things you taught on purpose and on accident were true.

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About Hannah Bird

I am me. I live at my house with my husband and kids. Mostly because I have found that people get really touchy if you try to live at their house. Even after you explain that their towels are fluffier and none of the cheddar in their fridge is green.

I teach Relief Society and most of the sisters in the ward are still nice enough to come.

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