The Elf on the Shelf is a goddamned Christmas mystery to me: I am much too old to have experienced this adorable metaphor for surveillance culture firsthand, and still too young to have unleashed it on my own nonexistent children.

As the 2004 children's book that inspired this newly minted tradition tells it, this little guy watches over the kids of the household and reports back to Santa about their behavior, be it naughty or nice. Every morning, he's discovered to have moved—often found in a whimsical position, and often bearing treats—as if by magic.


I can only imagine how exhausting all this toy choreography must be, which is probably why the Instagram hashtag #elfontheshelf reveals that increasingly punchy parents are getting delightfully weird with their Elf displays as Christmas draws near. Take a look:

A common Elf gambit is to draw on your children's faces while they sleep, as if your home were the site of a frat party from a raucous '80s comedy. This is terrifying to me. I'm a heavy sleeper.

Alternately, you can use your own face as a canvas.

But why stop at torturing just the human members of the family?

Also worth considering: pop culture references your children will never understand.

And some they probably will.

Bonus points for the Express YoursELF shirt that I'm not sure I remember Luke Skywalker—or, for that matter, anyone in the extended Star Wars universe—wearing.

This tableau is upsetting on multiple levels, but to begin with, I don't think Barbie should be conscious for this procedure. Have the decency to call a doll anesthesiologist.

Perhaps this was Barbie's revenge.

Or this.

And this.

Definitely this.

This Christmas, get schlonged.

I have no idea what's happening here, but I feel like Justin Timberlake probably has grounds for a lawsuit based on this photo alone.

Besides peppermints, a popular choice for Elf poop is chocolate chips.

Also, toothpaste.

Another variation on the potty humor theme.

Of course, once you've truly given up, there's no reason why your Elf displays need to be G-rated at all.

Last but not least, I am positive that the name "Jingletoots" will stay with me for years.

Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.