December 1. For most (normal) people that date would mean putting up the Christmas tree and decorating the house with Christmas lights.
To the people up the road who have had their house fully decorated for three weeks already: You are not normal. Sorry to break it to you in this fashion, but you're not.
Now, in the O'Brien household, not only does December 1 mean Christmas festivities and decorations are allowed, it also means the arrival of Oliver. "Who is Oliver?," you ask. Oliver O'Brien is our Elf on the Shelf and with the arrival of December 1 he reappears to wreak havoc and create festive high jinks around the household in the lead-up to Christmas. After Christmas he disappears, not to be seen again until next year.
To those unfamiliar with the Elf on a Shelf phenomenon there is two key points in regards to this. Firstly, what rock have you been living under? And secondly, Elf on a Shelf has become a Christmas tradition which has its origins in the 1970s America before it became a hugely popular children's storybook in the 2000s. The brainchild of American stay-at-home mom Carol Aebersold and her grown twin daughters, Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts.
Each night, while the family is asleep the naughty little elf gets up to some mischief. There is only one rule. No-one is allowed to touch the elf. You can talk to it and tell it your Christmas wishes, but you just can't touch it. You touch the Elf and your Christmas wishes won't come true.
In a sense it's like a moving, imaginative Christmas play with a new act for the kids of the household to wake up to each day.
Last year our Oliver got up to all sorts of things like raiding our breakfast cereal and he got taken hostage by the other teddies in the household. He tried to roast the rubber duckies for tea and even had a cocktail party with the Barbies one night. He is a naughty little elf.
The kids are most excited about the prospect of Oliver making a reappearance more so than putting up the Christmas tree or even seeing the neighbourhood festive light display. If you want to have a bit of family fun this Christmas, get involved and adopt and elf. But you have to watch them carefully ....and remember, don't touch ...
Julian O'Brien is the editor of the Illawarra Mercury