By: Wendy Rhein
It all started with the Elf on a Shelf. The supposedly endearing book and accompanying 1970s pixie-looking, Twiggy-skinny elf creature that is supposed to keep an eye on your kids and report back to Santa during the holiday season. Like this one:
This minx of a holiday decoration spends his days watching your child lovingly and then dashes off to the North Pole in the evening to tell Santa if they’ve been naughty or nice. He returns home to stay up all night and play tricks in your house while sugar plums are dancing over sleepy little heads. Like a frat boy who will promise to be responsible and careful while house sitting over spring break … and then you come home a day early. There are whole chat rooms and Facebook pages dedicated to the antics of elves, some playful and sweet like leaving trails of kisses from the front door to the child’s room; some who need some anger management training after TP’ing the entire front yard.
Nate wanted an elf to come and visit when he was 4. He couldn’t believe that elves came to other kids’ homes and not his. Did Santa not love him? Did Santa not want to see what he was doing in the days and weeks leading up to Christmas? GASP! Did Santa not know where he LIVED? The horror!
So I went to the store to get a damn elf. Elves were available, with the accompanying book, for $29.99. Fine. But the elves themselves? All pink-skinned and blue-eyed.
Next store. Pink-skinned and blue-eyed. Store after that. Pink and blue.
I went to 4 stores before I went online in my quest. I had gone from annoyed with this additional holiday obligation of coming up with a new trick or treat for the elf to provide every day to being outraged that the creator of this multi-million dollar holiday stunt only made elves that looked like Richie Cunningham. What about all the other ethnicities that celebrate Christmas? What about the brown kids, as Nate would say?
I finally found a brown elf, or as the retailers and publishers call it the “brown-eyed elf.” Because the rest of him is the same, except for the pale brown that covers his plastic face. I had to special order him. I told Nate that our elf had a vital, upper management job with Santa – sleigh logistics and operations – and he was going to be late because he had to measure the cubic feet of the toys that go to each continent to be sure that Santa packed in the most space efficient manner, avoiding those tedious return trips to reload at the North Pole. Time off for an elf of such high standing was hard to come by. He was going to be later than he had planned, but he was coming.
Three weeks later our elf, Jingle, arrived. I have since ordered a second (again, a special order and significantly more expensive than its blue-eyed counterpart) for Sam.
Where are the multiracial and multiethnic Christmas decorations? Why, when the 2010 census reports 49% of all infants under one year in the US are not white, and 1 in 20 births were reported to be two or more races, is it taking retailers and product creators so long to catch up to the this new normal?
Maybe it is because holidays are about nostalgia and tradition. Maybe that’s why we dash to the DVR to save “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” from 1964. But the effect is the increasing alienation of a generation of children who are multiracial or multiethnic who do not see themselves in the ornaments hanging in the card store window, in the “Twas the Night Before Christmas” storybook, or in the elves that surround Santa’s sleigh. I don’t want to have to shop some specialty store that has a choice of 3 ornaments with shades of brown faces on them. Don’t even get me started on finding ones with pink AND brown faces in the same family! And, I will not settle for the pink-faced dolls that have been tinted brown but still have straight light brown hair, either. Talk about adding insult to injury.
I look for multicultural holiday decorations, toys and holiday stories everywhere I go now. Relative to the holiday decorations that flood the market every year, I have found few. Cultures change. Families change. Holidays and traditions must change to keep up with the people, not the past. Retailers need to recognize this, acknowledge our new families and the buying power we possess, and come to the holiday table with more than a special order, hard to find, brown-eyed elf.