Don’t Leave Elf on the Shelf this Holiday Season: A Retrospective on the Christmas Classic


Zachary Gordon, Staff Writer

Like so many others, I too look forward to the sights and sounds that come with each holiday season. As the song says, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go.” Decorations are hung across cities and in neighborhoods. Community events like tree lightings and caroling bring people of all backgrounds together to celebrate the holiday season. And of course, Christmas music can be heard in every store and restaurant as well as on every radio station.
Another medium that comes to the forefront during the month of December is of course Christmas movies. ABC has a month-long marathon of Christmas classics, and the Hallmark Channel makes millions off of recycling the same basic premise four times each holiday. In this massive collection of Christmas movies, it can be hard to stand out, especially amongst such classics as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and The Santa Clause. However, despite my love for all of these films, there is another that surpasses even these greats in terms of charm, heart, and humor. There are many reasons that Will Ferrell’s Elf earns its place among the legends, and it truly deserves a watch this Christmas season.

The premise of Elf is actually pretty simple: Buddy, played by Ferrell, is a human orphan who crawled into Santa’s sack one Christmas Eve. The infant then traveled back to the North Pole with Santa. When the baby was discovered the next day, an elf named Papa volunteered to raise Buddy as his own. Of course, a human cannot not fit into elf culture (Buddy often hits his head on the elf-sized doors), and after overhearing other elves complaining about him, Papa Elf is forced to tell a grown Buddy about his true human origins. Buddy then sets off for New York City in order to find his biological father, a man who, surprise-surprise, is on Santa’s naughty list.

The rest of the film follows Buddy trying to find his footing in the new world of New York City while attempting to share Christmas spirit with his self-obsessed, Scrooge-ish father. This story sets up incredibly humorous moments, especially since Buddy is essentially a child in a man’s body. Watching Buddy deal with new situations like city traffic, the “free” gum under the railings, and fake mall Santas is where this movie particularly shines. Clever jokes and timing are combined with Ferrell’s style of physical comedy to create an experience where all you can do is laugh. Even if you’ve seen the movie before, the jokes still land every time. This timelessness is part of what helps Elf cement its place in the Christmas movie pantheon. Elf was charming in 2003, and it still will be in 50 years.

Another facet of Elf’s appeal comes in its message about holiday spirit and family relationships. Yes, Elf is first and foremost a holiday comedy film. However, the events that play out, no matter how ridiculous, provoke viewers to think about their attitudes towards the holiday season. This theme is most evident in Buddy’s love interest, Jovie. When the two first meet at the mall, Jovie claims that she just “wants to get through the holidays.” Buddy then makes it his mission not only to save his father’s Christmas spirit, but hers as well.

Personally, I think the Jovie’s original holiday attitude can represent some of our own. For many, the Christmas season is very stressful. Students have midterms. Families must worry about shopping for gifts and preparing food. These extra influences, combined with already existing stresses can sometimes make the most wonderful time of the year feel like the most burdensome. Buddy’s message to Jovie, and Elf’s message to us, is that we must not lose sight of what is important during this time of year. The holidays are a time to get together with others and make lasting memories. Food and gifts are great (I love me some chocolate pie), but if we let those worries consume our Christmas, then we may miss the true experience of what the holidays are supposed to be about.

This Christmas, be sure to be thankful for the special people in your life. And hey, while you’re making holiday memories with them, maybe give Elf a watch. You’ll all be laughing and remembering the real reason for the season.


“The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” – Buddy the Elf