It's the holiday season, and yet again, the debate over Elf on the Shelf is heating up (see here and here). My wife and I live under the constant threat that one of our family will buy this thing for us, putting us in an uncomfortable predicament. Not to pile on, but I've been sitting on these three critiques for a while and want to get them out there:
- I think we all need to be more deliberate with our use of the word "tradition." Something invented in 2004/5 is not a tradition. As a sociologist, I take traditions very seriously. They are parts of institutions and can even be seen as institutions themselves. A practice that your family has repeated for a few years does not constitute a tradition. It might--might--constitute a ritual, but it has not yet ascended to the level of tradition. It might be very dear to you and yours as well, and fair enough, but let's keep things contextualized.
- The Elf on the Shelf phenomenon is the epitome of capitalistic consumerism. "Traditions" are no longer things that we do or pass on; instead, they are things we buy.
- Elf on the Shelf contributes to the further entrenching of the social construction of childhood.