Bah, humbug: ACLU cancels Elf on a Shelf over surveillance and privacy concerns

(AP Photo/CCA&B, LLC)

Sometimes adults overthink playful things and this is one of those stories. The ACLU is anti-Elf on a Shelf and thinks your family should be, too. Is it time to cancel the Elf on a Shelf tradition?


The elf isn’t a very old tradition, as far as Christmas traditions go. It began in 2005 when Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell wrote a Christmas story for children. It was illustrated by Coe Steinwart. The story is written in rhyme and explains how elves help Santa Claus know who is naughty and nice. From Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, an elf visits a family to keep an eye on the children and report back to Santa on their behavior. After each night’s visit with Santa, the elf is found in a different spot the next morning. Children look for the elf each morning and are told not to touch it, as its magic will disappear.

It’s make-believe fun for kids. The ACLU says it’s bad for kids because it teaches children the wrong lessons on surveillance and personal privacy issues. Granted, many of us think that the whole Elf on a Shelf tradition is kind of creepy but isn’t it in line with what parents say to their kids about being good? Parents tell their children that Santa knows if they are naughty or nice, right? It’s an incentive to encourage good behavior. Santa is a magical figure for children and his elves are helpers. Everyone knows this.

The ACLU makes the elves into nefarious characters acclimating children into accepting the premise that they are constantly under surveillance by an authority figure. Wasn’t that person Santa Claus before the elves began sitting on shelves? And, what about parents? It is literally the job of parents to keep an eye on children. Some psychologists say Elf on the Shelf encourages lying to children. They say the elves make children gullible. That’s a pretty big guilt trip to put on a make-believe character who is only in the family’s life for a few weeks each year. The same can be said of other seasonal childhood fantasies like Santa himself and the Easter Bunny. Isn’t it potentially creepy to imagine a stranger – Santa- coming into homes in the middle of the night? Or, a giant rabbit who walks upright and delivers baskets of treats, along with hiding eggs to hunt? Don’t those stories play on children’s gullibility?


But the ACLU together with a number of other privacy and civil rights organizations believe the elf to be invasive, creepy and even dangerous, and they’re telling parents the toy should perhaps ‘be left on store shelves.’

‘I don’t want to sound like a Grinch, but we shouldn’t be celebrating seasonal surveillance,’ Albert Fox Cahn from the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, a civil rights and privacy group, told The New York Times.

‘It’s really a terrible message for kids.’

‘No one should be looking at you in your bedroom without consent,’ Cahn added. ‘There is a cost to normalizing surveillance, even in the most adorable ways.

‘I don’t want to be the first one to take Santa Claus to court for invasion of privacy, but consent matters, and having privacy matters.’

The Lumistella Company which owns Elf on a Shelf disagrees with the overwrought drama from the privacy watchdogs.

‘Santa’s Scout Elves don’t just help to keep up with the Nice List; they also share with Santa how families are spreading the spirit of Christmas,’ the company said in a statement.

‘Many children note that their favorite moments throughout each season include waking up to see where the family’s Scout Elf has landed and the humorous scenes they sometimes set up.

‘Our hope is that the Elf on the Shelf will create cheerful holiday moments and precious family memories that will last a lifetime.’


It’s an interesting publicity ploy, I suppose, but the elves have been around since 2005 and the kids are alright. Jay Stanley, of the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said that families look at this as a fun thing but it teaches children to only do the right thing when someone is watching. ‘Personally, I consider success as a parent to be teaching my kids to do the right thing even when nobody is watching, whether they be from the North Pole or anywhere else. Maybe these are elves that should be left on store shelves.’

Surveillance is all around us as we go about our lives, especially after 9/11/01. It’s a fact of life that children will learn about soon enough. Can’t they just be kids for a while, at least as long as they believe in Santa Claus? Fairy tales come under attack on a regular basis. The point is that fairy tales and Elf on a Shelf help develop the imaginations of children. That’s a good thing. By the time someone is reading Hansel and Gretel or Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty to them, they know it’s make-believe. It’s fantasy. Let them have that. Virtue-signaling adults and personal privacy scrooges should just take a beat and enjoy the season.

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