Elf on the Shelf: Santa Claus's secret police force better watch out for Scotland's E.L.F. Army – Susan Morrison

Hallowe’en used to be a sheet with holes cut out of it, a plastic mask that cut your ears and a mutilated turnip.

American elves invading Scotland to spy on us may provoke a response from Scotland's own sprites (Picture: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
American elves invading Scotland to spy on us may provoke a response from Scotland's own sprites (Picture: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

Now it's expensive costumes, pricey pumpkins and, of course, trick or treat.

It’s the Americans, really. Yes, we can blame them for this, because they sure are brilliant at dreaming up stuff that makes us part with our money. Just about any tradition is up for grabs by the marketing boys, be it Hallowe’en or Mothers Day.

They couldn’t commercialise Christmas, because it started that way. The minute the present-toting three kings rocked up, festive gift-giving was set in stone.

Steadily, though, our American cousins have been at work. Mission creep has stealthily extended the commercial battleground that is Christmas Day. We are urged to buy special pyjamas, jumpers and even a Christmas Eve box.

Essentially this is a box for even more goodies to be bought, discarded and landfilled in the name of Christmas.

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Now, as long as we can all manage to erase Greta Thunberg’s disapproving face from our mind’s eye as we send yet more junk to cook underground in our waste disposal sites, I guess this is a fairly harmless fake tradition, unlike the unbelievably sinister “Elf on the Shelf”.

You might have missed this one, so let me get you up to speed. The back story is that Santa unleashes his army of elves just after Thanksgiving. They insinuate themselves into the homes of children worldwide, yes, even the ones who don’t do Thanksgiving, and watch the children.

Then these sneaky little tell-tales report back to Santa about who’s been naughty or nice.

Essentially Santa Claus has a secret police force and an informant network that makes MI5, the CIA and the KGB look like the Keystone Kops.

Like all good undercover agents, they are disguised. They look like cute little toys. People buy them and put them on shelves in the house where they constantly monitor for the sort of breaches of behaviour that might lead to a particularly prized present being notably absent on Christmas Day.

On the one hand, it is genius. Children are cowed into obedience by those staring beady eyes and that weird rictus grin. John Knox would have loved that constant surveillance. And once again, one can only admire our American cousins for creating yet another way to mug mums and dads for money.

On the other hand, to quote Scrooge it’s “another reason for picking a man’s pocket”, and it’s another watering down of our traditions.

In Scotland, an elf was no cutie-pie helping Santa to do his present duty. Elves were vicious little horrors who curdled the milk and helped fairies steal babies. Our ancestors would go to some lengths to keep an elf out of the house.

They were jealous, possessive and vindictive. In Scotland, elf could have stood for Evil Little Fiend, like a sort of supernatural terrorist outfit.

You never know, one night those old elves might just wake up in the hall of the Fairy Queen and declare war on the Yankee interlopers sitting on Scottish shelves.

In an elf firefight, I know who I’d back. Scramble up those shelves all you want, American elf. Scotland’s E.L.F. Army would take you down faster than Santa sinks a sherry.

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