But this does not mean they are off the hook when it comes to good behavior in the weeks leading up the Christmas.
My sister does not need a successful commercial enterprise, masquerading as a Christmas tradition (in spite of being fewer than ten years old), to keep her kids in line during the holidays.
It used to be, before the age of the Internet and cell phones, merely humming a few bars of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" was enough to keep Christian children (and their non-secular counterparts) on their best behavior throughout the month of December. When I was a kid we KNEW that he knew if we'd been bad or good, so we had better be good, for goodness sake.
I think children are a little savvier than we were back in the 1970s. And my youngest sister KNOWS her kids are savvy consumers of parental legend.
And then I start getting random text messages and cell phone calls, from my sister, ostensibly to Santa, asking for verification that I am in fact real, that I did in fact shake her son's hand at the local tree lighting ceremony, or I did receive her daughter's light mailed just a week ago. They always start with a "Hi Santa" greeting, so I know it is time to turn on the "ho ho ho." So I glibly reply, savvy auntie that I am, with a recapitulation of her message, affirming that the alleged incident (e.g. shaking Santa's hand at the local tree lighting, or an incident of mischievous behavior at school) did in fact occur, followed by a reminder to the kids to be good because I'm watching them carefully from the North Pole.
I love being able to do this for my sister because she lives 400 miles away, and I rarely have the opportunity to be hands-on in my support of her parenting. I love that this happens effortlessly. One day, maybe three years ago, I randomly received a text addressed to Santa and just picked it up and ran with it. We never rehearse, I never know when a message is coming, and I haven't dropped the ball on her yet. And nearly 35 years after an early end to my belief in the physical manifestation of Santa, I am still delighted by my child's eye view of Santa and the magic that happens at the North Pole.
Are you a savvy aunts or uncle who celebrates Christmas? I invite you to share this post with the parents of the little ones in your life, and invite them to play along. It is a great way to get the effect of elf on the shelf, without kowtowing to the relentless pressure of developing new, hijinks-fillled tableaus to showcase the elf's worst behavior, and it is a wonderful way for you to be involved in your siblings' Christmas traditions beyond gift giving.