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Scouting for Santa: The popular Elf on the Shelf lands in local homes

’Tis the holiday season and all through the Sauk Valley,

some sneaky elves are stirring, keeping a naughty-or-nice tally.

These elves were handpicked with the utmost of care

to spend time with families: Little children, beware!

You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I’m telling you why: The slight, sneaky Elf on the Shelf has come to town.

Since 2005, Santa Claus has employed thousands – nay, millions – of mischievous little helpers to keep tabs on children and update the naughty and nice lists.

This year, the Elf on the Shelf has been flying off his perch at local stores and moving in with local families.

The Christmas tradition was born decades ago, when a tiny, silly elf visited a young girl and observed her behavior from a shelf. But it didn’t take hold and reach official holiday craze status until several years ago, when that girl – now a mother and grandmother – wrote a book about her elf and his visits.

Here’s how it works:

Families adopt an elf – a rosy-cheeked, rascally boy or girl, handpicked by jolly old St. Nicholas to be his scout – and bring it into their home for the holidays.

Adoption agencies (Pam’s Hallmark in Dixon and Kirlin’s Hallmark in Sterling) charge a nominal fee ($29.95 plus tax). Families go over the official paperwork (the accompanying book), name their elf, and register the adoption with the proper authorities (the Elf on the Shelf website).

The elf watches the children and reports back to the North Pole, hiding in curious places – often a different place from night to night – and sometimes engaging in holiday trickery every night from Thanksgiving to Christmas.

These magical elves have a big job to do:

They were sent by Saint Nick to keep an eye on you.

These special elves then fly to the North Pole

to tell Santa Claus to bring presents or coal.

The Elf on the Shelf is most popular among families with young children.

Amanda Schommer, 29, of Sterling is the mother of Haleigh, 5, and Ethan, 2. Schommer last year adopted an elf, Chippy, who helps the children count down to the big day.

“I thought it would be a fun tradition,” Schommer said. “It’s one of the first real traditions for us. We decorate the tree already, but we look for the elf every morning now, too.”

Lindsy Stumpenhorst, 28, of Franklin Grove also is the mother of two children, Cole, 5, and Chloe, 2. Stumpenhorst, a teacher, brought an elf into their home this year. Sugar, named for his sweet tooth, allows the whole family to get in on the fun of the holiday season.

“Anything to stretch out the fun of Christmas,” she said. “So often, it’s bam! It’s here and then it’s gone. Most of the time, we don’t really get to enjoy it. This builds the anticipation and keeps the magic alive for all of us.”

Kids love the Elf on the Shelf; they spring out of bed in the morning, then race around the house to find their tricky little friends.

Cole Stumpenhorst is very curious about Sugar.

“I wonder what he’s going to do tonight, …” he said, scratching his head. “I asked my mom and dad if I can sleep downstairs and listen for Sugar. But they said no.

“One night, I slept in the hallway so I could hear him, but he’s quiet – like so quiet my ears didn’t even hear a thing,” he said. “Now, I plan on getting up first so I can find him before anyone else.”

Haleigh and Ethan Schommer are a little more wary of Chippy.

“He’s up there! He’s watching!” Haleigh said, pointing to the elf, who earlier in the week had been perched in the Christmas tree among the ornaments and lights.

“No naughties,” Ethan said, shaking his head.

Parents love the Elf on the Shelf, too; they use the wholesome game as gentle nudge toward good behavior.

“It’s a nice little reminder,” Schommer said.

“It is a nice, quick way to remind the kids to behave, …” Stumpenhorst said, “but it’s more about fun and surprise.”

The little elves hide in dark crannies and nooks,

from doorways to drawers to shelves filled with books.

Talk to the elves you may. Share your Christmas list you must.

But touch them you cannot, or their magic will turn to dust.

The Elf on the Shelf, with his rosy cheeks and shifty eyes, is a sly devil. 

In the Schommer house, the mild-mannered Chippy has landed on shelves and hung on picture frames.

In Kellie Kohl’s house in Morrison, which doubles as a day care for five children, the daring Christopher Pop-In-Kins (technically a deviant from the official Elf on the Shelf club) has skydived off the ceiling fan, ziplined through the kitchen, and driven a red Corvette around the playroom.

And in the Stumpenhorst house, the devilish, troublemaking Sugar has taken a bite out of the kids’ gingerbread train car, put a ribbon around the dog’s neck, and painted the kids’ noses red after he caught them singing “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” One night, he took down the family’s stockings and hung up underwear in their place. And earlier this week, he toilet-papered the kids’ bedroom doors so they couldn’t get out; he was lonely and wanted the kids to stay home from school.

Chloe Stumpenhorst is bothered by Sugar and his naughtiness.

“No, no, no,” she said, furrowing her brow and wagging a finger at the elf.

Cole Stumpenhorst is onto Sugar.

“I can outsmart that guy,” he said. “I think he’s going to end up in the Christmas tree, probably trying to bite a candy cane.”

Come Christmas Eve, after a month of games and fun,

the mischievous elves will leave; their work is done.

But do not fret, for they shall reappear

to do it all over again, year after year.

The Elf on the Shelf tradition is good only as long as the children believe in the sugar plums and reindeer magic of Christmas.

Lindsy Stumpenhorst had to convince her kindergartner that Sugar really was a scout for Santa Claus.

“Santa Claus is such a mystical idea, but Sugar is stuffed and fake and sitting right there. It took a little buy-in,” Lindsy said. “Cole is a smart kid. He said, ‘How can you tell me that thing flies to the North Pole at night and talks to Santa?’

“I compared it to ‘Toy Story,’ and how, when those kids are around, those toys are still and inanimate, and then, at night, when the kids are asleep, the toys come to life. He seemed to understand the idea. … And he really enjoys it now.”

Stumpenhorst hopes to keep up the annual hide-and-seek ritual for at least a few more years, so both her son and daughter can experience the fun.

“The doubt by the time kids get to third grade is overwhelming, …” she said. “So, if I can keep it up through then, that would be great. Then, if I can convince him to keep a secret and maybe even help me with it, I can keep it up for her until then, too.”

So children (and parents), heed this advice:

This holiday season, be not naughty, but nice.

Spread good cheer. Be merry and bright.

Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

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