Historical and contemporary novelist Dan Walsh, whose latest novel is THE REUNION, relates his frantic search for THE ELF ON THE SHELF as a Christmas gift for his wife. Dan was convinced that the storybook would be the perfect present, as his wife’s grandmother used to read it to her as a child. Little did he know how shocked he would be on Christmas morning when she finally unwrapped the book.
I have two Christmas novels on the shelf right now. But this story is not about my Christmas books; it’s about a special Christmas book I searched for far and wide to buy for my wife a few years ago.
To appreciate this story, I have to back up to the Christmas just before the one I’m referring to. See, the thing is, when you’ve been married to someone for over three decades, it can be a tricky thing to find just the right Christmas gift, the one that will create that special moment on Christmas morning. That year I had hit it out of the park. I made my wife cry (in a good way).
No, she didn’t cry when she opened the $250 emerald ring I bought her. She cried when she unwrapped the $20 teddy bear, which I bought almost by accident. I had seen it on my way out of one store and bought it because it reminded me of a little teddy bear she had when we were first married. Turned out, it reminded her of the teddy bear she had so many years ago, but had lost. A bear her little brother had given to her when they were little.
Which is why she cried. She couldn’t believe how thoughtful I was to get it for her. Needless to say, it was such a significant Christmas moment, I wanted to repeat it the following year if I could.
I had gone out shopping sometime after Thanksgiving, bought her several things I had heard her express some interest in. But so far, nothing close to that special present I had been searching for. I had one thing in mind, something I thought I’d heard her talk about last Christmas. It was this popular children’s Christmas storybook that came with a matching stuffed elf, called THE ELF ON THE SHELF.
Every place I looked that carried it was out of stock. As Christmas Day drew near, I was becoming frantic. I should have ordered it online, then I’d already have it. But now it was too late. My understanding was, her grandmother had read this book to her every Christmas for years, along with this charming little elf.
I had to find it. I had made her cry last year. I wanted to do it again.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, I had found one last copy in one store, just a few hours before they closed for the holiday. I came home, wrapped it up and put it under the tree. I couldn’t wait for her reaction come Christmas morning.
The next day, Christmas morning came with all the joy and splendor (and egg nog) I had come to expect. Both our children were older, but they were still home, and we’d had a wonderful time opening presents together around the tree. I had insisted Cindi open this “special present” last and really hyped it up, knowing she’d be blown away when she saw what I had found.
That moment came. Cindi opened up my ELF ON A SHELF. She smiled and said thank you, then set it aside. I was stunned. No tears, no emotion at all. Just a polite thank you, followed by a bewildered look. Finally she asked, “Why did you buy this?”
I explained to her my frantic search to find this beloved Christmas book her grandmother had read to her when she was a child. She laughed and said, “My grandmother never read to us as children. I’ve never seen this book before.”
She explained further, and I realized this was a simple case of me, the idiot husband, only half-listening (sadly, as I do on occasion). Last year she had seen this ELF ON A SHELF in a store and remarked how it reminded her of two china elves her grandmother owned that she used to play with as a child.
“Oh,” I replied.
The final humiliation came when my son opened the storybook and said, “Dad, this book didn’t come out until 2005.”