Conspiracies often take years to unravel, especially when backed by the power of the U.S. government. After 9/11, Congress approved a raft of legislation that allowed it to spy on its own citizens with impunity. Overnight, they approved warrantless access to phone records, the Nanny Cam became a thing, and the board game “Mystery Date” made a brief comeback.

We can’t say we weren’t warned. We were told from the time we were little that Santa sees us when we’re sleeping, and he knows when we’re awake. (If you sleep in the nude, be nervous.) In no uncertain terms, those of us who made the wrong side of Santa’s list were told that we’d “better watch out. Santa’s coming to town.” In all 50 states and Puerto Rico, that’s a felony threat under Title 18 Code 875.

Still, we permitted this intrusion into our privacy because, let’s face it, we were in it for the presents.

When I was younger and less sophisticated, I assumed Santa planted bugs around the house before he went up the chimney. As I got older, I realized that a few microphones and hidden cameras wouldn’t yield the kind of intel Santa was getting on me. Somehow, he knew I wasn’t deserving of that new video game console. Naughty or nice, his announced intention to round us up and build a “Toyland” for a jubilee of some sort sounded like code for “internment camp.”

Santa had to have someone on the inside. That’s when it hit me: Santa’s little narc, the “Elf on the Shelf.” He’d been feeding the Big Man dirt on me all along.

I should have known when I woke up one morning to find that the elf had spilled toothpaste all over the bathroom counter. A big gob still hung from his wrist as he leaned up against the tube of Colgate, smiling all the while; that humorless, dead-eyed smile that spread across his cheeks like an oil slick.

As I started to share my suspicions, I was shocked that others seemed aware of this scheme all along. This little snitch had been hiding in plain sight for years because I’d always assumed he’d follow the unwritten “omerta” of childhood: that which happens in the backyard stays in the backyard. I figured he had skin in the game because his name probably appeared on Santa’s naughty list more than any of us.

Unfortunately, this was not Fred Rogers looking out for the kids in his neighborhood. No, this was Fredo Corleone from the Godfather movies, turning on the family even though he was one of us. I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart.

From what I’m reading on the message boards, elves get their special “Christmas magic” by being loved, adopted, and eventually named by a child. They fly to and from the North Pole, sharing their new “family’s” Christmas wishes directly with Santa. Conveniently, this magic disappears if the elf is touched, the kind of protection every mafia rat prays for. One elf was even caught warning a child against touching it: “My magic might go, and Santa won’t hear all I’ve seen or I know.” Faster than you can say “witness protection,” the elf then abandons his adopted family on Christmas Day to stay with Santa for the rest of the year until the following Christmas season.

I’m not saying Santa should be brought up on charges, nor am I suggesting you give that elf a pair of concrete shoes. I’m simply suggesting you keep a close eye on him this year ... because he’s definitely been keeping a close eye on you!

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