December 24, 2013

Those smallish elves with mischievous eyes that perch themselves among Christmas decorations on bookshelves and mantles claim to be strict rule-followers.

A push or a shove? Even these small, childhood transgressions get reported back to Santa, according to the Elf on the Shelf book, which first published eight years ago and has become a must-have item for many Carroll-area families.

(Six million copies have sold globally.)

The elves claim to be scouts for Santa Claus who return each night to the North Pole to give their reports.

"The news of the day makes him happy or sad," the book says of Old St. Nick.

When the elves return to Carroll, they sit or stand in a new place so that children know they were gone and back.

Among the rules - and perhaps the most important one - is to never, under any circumstances, touch the elves. Their magic might go, as the story says.

But the rules don't apply to parents, some of who have gone beyond the simple shuffling of elves from bookshelves to curtains to stockings. Some, like Carroll's Sara Smith, create elaborate scenes with their elves each night.

"You just want it to be magical," said Smith, whose boys of ages 13, 10 and 7 appreciate their mom's creativity even if they don't believe that their elf is a spy for Santa.

There was Smith's ice-fishing elf who left a note for Santa: "Fish are biting! I'll report Monday."

There was the hot-chocolate-sipping elf, who fell asleep in a dish of marshmallows.

There was the sneaky elf who blindfolded Santa and stole a kiss from Mrs. Claus.

Smith's elf even took cellphone photos of himself with each boy as he slept.

"We enjoy it," Smith said after she explained that her elf hung some of the boys' underwear from a ceiling fan one night.

Smith bought the book and elf last year, after her boys and their friends and some of the students at Fairview Elementary - where she is a second-grade special-education teacher - became engrossed with the Elf on the Shelf tale.

The Smith family read the book and named the elf, as the new tradition dictates.

"At first I said, 'No, we're not naming him after grandpa,' " Smith said of the boys' choice to call their red-trimmed elf "Louis."

After a bit, Smith relented. But she warned her boys that Louis the elf would be as wily as Louis the grandpa.

(Smith said that when she was a child on her parents' rural Lidderdale farm, her father would shout to the kids early in the morning on April Fools' Days that "the pigs are out, the pigs are out!" as a trick to wake them up.)

To make the elf as crafty as grandpa, Smith turned to the Internet and her friends for ideas. They abound on Google, the search engine, and Pinterest, a crafters' website, she said.

The fun ends tonight, though, as all the elves on the shelves listen for the bells ringing from Santa's sleigh and join him again at the North Pole until the Christmas season comes again.