As the holiday season approaches, little magical elves are descending on hundreds of homes around Northwest Indiana, peeking in on little kids and reporting back to Santa whether the kids are on the “naughty” or “nice” list.
In addition to reporting to Santa, each night the elves — assisted by their adult human helpers — move around the house and wreak havoc while the children sleep.
Reports of holiday elves causing mischief date back to the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the 2005 children’s book “Elf on the Shelf” came out that it began to become a cultural phenomenon.
Today, in addition to being able to buy the book-and-elf combination at most “big box” stores, it has spawned a line of elf clothing, at least one DVD and a television special.
Pinterest is loaded with hundreds of pictures and ideas for mischievous elf exploits. Basic ideas start with having the elf move around the house during the night, and more complicated ideas include floating the elf in a hot air balloon in the house, having the elf wrap the Christmas tree in toilet paper and building an elf-sized igloo.
Families all across the Region have made the elf a beloved holiday tradition, not only as a way to encourage good behavior but also to create memories they hope will last a lifetime.
Last year, a mischievous elf named Zap arrived at the Mikula home in Hobart, and Zap was as obsessed with Skylanders as was the family’s 5-year-old son, Riley.
During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Zap the elf — with the help of mom Tianna Mikula — baked mini elf donuts and drew mustaches on pictures. Zap also used bath crayons to draw an entire town inside the bathtub, and filled a hallway with hand-cut paper snowflakes.
On Christmas Eve, a second elf, named Brobee by 2-year-old Wyatt, joined the family and is expected to wreak havoc with Zap this winter.
“This way, each boy can take their elf with them to create memories for their own families one day,” she said.
Margo Machnik remembers her family having an elf that sat on the mantle, and she and her siblings would fight to be the one to put him up each year.
Machnik was excited to invite an elf into her home, and is delighted how her seven-year-old daughter, Summer, looks forward to Elfie’s next adventure.
Elfie has been known to eat leftover pie in the refrigerator and zip-line through the house, she said.
“On the last night Elfie appears, he always ends up in the manger, under the tree waiting for baby Jesus,” Machnik said. “I’m not sure in today’s world how long children keep believing in the magic of Christmas. We will always keep Elfie, but I’m not sure that Summer will believe that he is reporting back to Santa for too many more years.”
Elves also find their way into many elementary classrooms, keeping tabs on students for Santa. Each year, Melissa Dillard invites an elf, Fred, into her first grade classroom at Protsman Elementary in Dyer. Fred helps keep behavior in check in the weeks between Thanksgiving and winter break. His antics are so popular and outlandish, Dillard keeps track of his adventures in her blog.
“I don’t think I can get away with not having an elf visit our classroom ever again,” she said. “The rumor has spread and my current students have made it known that they know we will have an elf in the room if they misbehave.”
For many elf owners, there is always pressure to help their elves find new, creative predicaments.
“I do, like most parents that have invited the elf into their home, feel pressure to come up with things each night. Not so much to outdo myself, but just to keep it mixed-up and fun,” said Hobart resident Kristen Lotkowski. To that end, one night the Lotkowski family elf, Buddy, found himself trapped inside a snow globe. “I see how much they enjoy it, so I put the work into it. Some people do think we elf owners are crazy for putting any time into it at all, but I really don’t mind. Buddy can get away with most things we can only dream of, so that in itself is great.”
For the Miller family in Chesterton, elf Harley provides some pre-Christmas entertainment for boys Logan, 12, and Connor, 10.
Mom Amanda Miller said the elf is an extension of the magic and mystery of the holidays.
“It’s something my boys look forward to. It also brings an element of surprise to the days and weeks leading up to Christmas,” said mom Amanda Miller. “It’s something I can pass on to them and they can pass it to their children.”