Avert those eyes, please. Things are going to get ugly.
You may have heard rumblings about the Elf.
This is a creature whose celebrity ascent has been meteoric. Within seven years of his birth, the Elf has scored his own Web site, Twitter account, $16 million in sales for 2011, an annual growth rate of 149 percent and a movie deal. Plus, he conquered Manhattan as a gargantuan balloon in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
TMZ has been chasing rumors all week that he’s holed up at Chateau Marmont with Taylor Swift.
Christa, a former QVC host, is one of the Elf’s creators.
“When we were growing up, there was an elf in our home. It was our Christmas tradition,” she told me from the Elf offices in Marietta, Ga. “We are the Southern branch of the North Pole.”
Not familiar with this “tradition,” as the Elf’s online CV calls it? (Or La Tradicion, in the español version of his back story.) No, neither was I.
Nor had most of America heard about the December magic that Christa and her sister, Chanda Bell, two gorgeous Georgia peaches, had grown up with.
Their mother, Carol Aebersold, introduced a little elf into their lives the day after Thanksgiving. The Elf watched them all day long from a perch somewhere in their house. Like the monitoring cameras all over cities today, only cuter.
At night, he flew back to the North Pole to report on their behavior to Santa. When they woke up, he was in a different spot to spy on them.
“And when we went to college and left the house, we’d talk about the Elf, and no one else had heard of this or was doing it,” Christa said.
So mom wrote a poem about the Elf and his Big Brotherly ways. The sisters helped turn the poem into a book and a little, old-fashioned Elf doll. Publishers, manufacturers and guys in fancy suits wielding flowcharts rejected the Elf concept. So the women maxed out their credit cards to self-publish the book and create the toy, which sold out at every trade show they visited.
The Elf and his story exploded. American parents ate this up. Move over Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy. There’s another mythical creature who needs care and feeding.
My family invited the Elf into our lives three years ago. (I was desperate for some help; my boys were being monsters.) It’s a Faustian deal. First, you get this amazing disciplinary tool. My little heathens instantly turned into angels the moment I said, “The Elf is watching.” Not like the abstract “Santa is watching.” This was a real, actual thing, staring down at them with dead eyes, perched on the curtain rod, then the bookshelf, then swinging from the chandelier. I was beginning to fear withdrawal come January.
And here’s where it goes horribly wrong. Because Americans have a really hard time keeping things simple, be it Christmas lights, Sweet 16 parties, weddings or Elves.
Those exhausted-looking parents you see muttering in the hallways at work? “Three a.m. . . . she wants me to move the friggin’ elf. . . . I was asleep . . . the elf can eat my. . . .”
In the simple story that comes with the Elf, he’s gotta move every night. That means parents who forget to do it before going to bed wake up in the middle of the night, realizing they didn’t move the bleeping Elf.
Because if that Elf hasn’t moved in the morning, there’s hell to pay with the little ones. The jig is up.
During one of these Elf emergencies, I began having dark thoughts about Christa and the other Elf creators who had brought yet another middle-of-the-night Mommy obligation into my life.
The Elf team understands and has provided help on the Elf’s Web site, offering explanations for a sedentary Seth Rogen Elf that doesn’t breathe a word about mom’s post-bedtime Beaujolais binge.
“Sometimes your elf will have a favorite spot, just like you might have a favorite chair or a spot on the couch. If the elf hasn’t moved, it is probably sitting in one of its favorite spots!”
The basic Elf story is work enough. But there is an entire population of overachieving parents whose Elves lead lives more exciting than Justin Bieber’s. And they have Facebook pages, blogs and Pinterest boards documenting their silly Elves’ midnight exploits, like a pillow fight (feathers all over the floor), snowball fight (mini-marshmallows piled all over the house, burying Barbie and Zurg), cookie-making (flour and cookie dough all over the place) or sticking 50,000 Post-it notes on the wall.
Seriously, what kind of adult creates this mess, only to have to clean it up?
Plus, reality is going to be a serious blow for children growing up amid this much magic.
So of course, all this over-the-top ridiculousness has spawned a cottage industry of Elf hatred.
Potty-mouthed screeds declaring “Death to the Elf!” have cropped up everywhere.
The Georgia peaches are bruised.
“I just don’t understand this negativity,” Christa said. “I find this notion of keeping up with the Joneses so negative. . . . You don’t have to be the Griswolds.
“The Elves take on the personality of the family that adopts it,” she cheerily explains. “If you are a family that’s full of creative people, and your Elf enjoys doing creative things at night, that’s your tradition.”
I was met with silence on the other end of the phone line when I suggested they make tiny couches and small beer cans for our Elf, then.
“At its core, this is simple, family time together,” she said. “It doesn’t require batteries, blinking lights or flashing anything.”
Yeah, true that. But it does require me to get up at 3 a.m.
Follow me on Twitter at @petulad. To read earlier columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.