elfie Amid the booming music, glittery dresses and cocktailed shrimp at a Christmas party last Friday, I ran into my friend Jill, whom I hadn’t seen in several months. We had a quick catch-up and then I realized I had a burning question I needed to ask her. She was in the midst of introducing me to her friend Megan when I interrupted her.

“So anyway, enough small talk. Hi, Megan, nice to meet you. But, Jill, how is Elfie doing?” I asked breathlessly. “Has he been busy?”

She laughed.

“You have no idea.”

Elfie is my friend Jill’s Elf on the Shelf, the strange, little doll that has been increasingly making appearances in homes across the country in the past few years. The goal of the Elf on the Shelf is to act as Santa’s yuletide watchdog for the month before Christmas to determine if kids are being naughty or nice. The story goes that he shows up after Thanksgiving and disappears every night to travel to the North Pole to give status reports to Santa on the kids in the house. To make the game more motivating to kids, Elfie moves around every night so that every morning they get to gleefully go and find him and see what he’s been up to.

Well, my friend Jill’s elf was incredibly busy last year. One morning, he was caught sitting on the toilet seat with a very convincing wad of toilet paper wrapped up in his hand. Another he was having a bonfire beside a lit candle, with mini marshmallows pierced at the end of toothpicks. Finally, he was found having a bubble bath with Barbie in the bathroom sink, which had been filled with cotton balls to emulate the bubbles. Jill had even set up the Barbie dollhouse fireplace nearby and placed some Barbie wine glasses on the side of the sink to set the mood.

I know all this because she would post the photos on Facebook each day and at night I would delight in looking at them. Needless to say, the comments about Elfie’s wanderings — and his growing romance with Barbie — were distinctly adult in nature and it seemed like the parents were having just as much, if not more, fun as the kids.

Adding to the entertainment is that all of the Elves on the Shelves wear the most mischievous expression: a slight grin with eyes looking coyly to the right so they look like they either have a very big secret or have been very bad. Their cheeks are rosy like a girl’s and their crisp haircut is distinctly 1960s in nature underneath their red Santa hat. Basically, you’re left wondering about the sexual preference of this elf that seems all too happy to be sporting his white jester-style collar. Let’s just say it can go either way.

Of course, not at Jill’s house, where Elfie was found in the fridge yesterday sharing a bottle of milk with Barbie via bendy straws. Jill’s Elfie, at least, likes the ladies.

The phenomenon started in 2005 when Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell wrote a book about the tradition, which they say dates back to the 1970s. The book was rejected by all major publishers, so, undeterred, Aebersold, Bell and Christa Pitts, Aebersold’s other daughter, formed a Georgia-based company and published it themselves, selling the book along with the 10-inch doll.

According to an article that ran in the Huffington Post, about 2.5 million had been sold as of December of last year and it reached No. 2 on the “USA Today” and “Wall Street Journal” bestseller lists.

As for why it’s so popular, I can only imagine, but Christmas does tend to establish some strange traditions. If you think about it, hiking kids up to sit on a grown man’s lap is a little weird. Nutcrackers are kind of scary if you look at them too long. Reindeer on rooftops is just plain unbelievable. Heck, cranberry sauce from a can is pretty strange. Yet, they’re all beloved in their own, random way and I expect the Elf on the Shelf will similarly find a permanent place among the Quirky Christmas mixed bag.

As for me, I’ll look forward to the next time I run into my friend Jill to see how Elfie is doing — and find out if Barbie is expecting.

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