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Christmas: A Time for Holiday Festivities and A Whole Lot of Social Control


Ideally, when we think of the holiday season, we want to think of things like festivities, holiday décor, snowfall, and a time of relaxation. The holiday season is a time for family, traditions, giving, and appreciation. However, it is easy to let the holiday season get consumed by materialism. When we really think about the holiday season, our minds naturally go to things like shopping and gift giving. For those who celebrate Christmas, presents are a main part of the celebration. As kids, we grow up believing in Santa Claus, the character responsible for making all our holiday wishes come true. As Christmas day approaches, we are reminded of Santa’s “naughty or nice” list. Ultimately, children are motivated by presents as a way to keep them on their best behavior, and of course, so that they do not end up with pile of coal on Christmas morning. In addition to the “naughty or nice” list, children’s behaviors are also being influenced by the tradition of “elf on the shelf”. The idea of “elf on the shelf” is to surveil the behaviors of children while Santa is in the North Pole. The mere presence of the elves encourages kids to behave their best, as they believe that they are constantly being observed.

Concepts such as the “naughty or nice” list and “elf on the shelf”, act as means for social control. They serve to prevent deviance and bad behavior. In a sense, “elf on the shelf” can be compared to the way prisons operate as well as social theorist, Michael Foucault’s theory of the Panopticon. A Panopticon is a “disciplinary structure”that takes the form of a watch tower in the center of circle-shaped prison, which gives police officials complete surveillance of prison inmates. Foucault believed that the Panopticon was the ultimate “source of power for prison officials”.Not only did it control the behaviors of the inmates when the prison officials were present, but it controlled their behaviors even when they weren’t. Just the physical presence of the structure was enough to restrain inmatesfrom doing certain things that could get them into trouble. This can be related back to “elf on the shelf” and the idea that Santa is “always watching” because both concepts induce a “state of conscious visibility” in the individuals. Even though children are not actually being observed at all times, their behaviors are still influenced and modified to comply with what constitutes as being “nice” or well behaved. Additionally, getting put on the “naughty or nice” list is essentially like being labeled a deviant or criminal in the criminal justice system. If you behave poorly before Christmas or violate a social norm or law, you are putting yourself in the position to be labeled. As a child, you do not want to make your way onto the “naughty” list because not only does it potentially mean that you don’t receive any presents, but it instills a sense of shame in the individual and makes room for judgement in a similar way that being labeled a criminal does. The fear of being labeled and its consequences, whether it is receiving coal on Christmas or being incarcerated and facing collateral consequences, are powerful enough to deter many individuals from engaging in bad behavior or crime.

The holiday season is just one of the many times when we are socially controlled as individuals. It is interesting to realize that social control is a concept that has been affecting us from such an early age and continues to influence the way we behave throughout every day of our lives.

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