Santa is still making a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but he’s had some new help in recent years.

Santa used to ask adults to report on the behavior of the children in their care for an accurate naughty-or-nice measurement. But in recent years he’s gotten a hand from the “Elf on a Shelf,” which according to Publisher’s Weekly garnered more than $7 million in sales in 2009.

The “Elf on a Shelf” consists of a book and a tiny stuffed elf, with variations available to represent a variety of ethnic groups. Adults are encouraged to present the elf to their youngsters as an emissary of Santa Claus assigned to keep an eye on their behavior before Christmas.

According to Slate, adults are advised to read the story to children and to place the elf somewhere in the house, moving it nightly. The children are to believe that their elf reports to Santa after they fall asleep at night using some magical means, returning in the morning to monitor them the next day.

Some see the elf as a way to take behavior monitoring off parents’ list of holiday tasks, while others view him as representative of big brother-style spying.

“There is something uncomfortably surveillance-state about the whole enterprise,” Slate’s Torie Busch wrote. “It’s the holidays with that extra dash of ‘1984.’”

“In a way, it is a parental relief system; it relieves us of the burden of being Santa’s heavy-handed messenger while at the same time giving proper representation to the carrot-stick program in play around Christmastime,” commenter T.J. Mayotte wrote on the Elkridge Patch website. “No longer are we the heavy hands in our home. We cede our authority to a tiny doll, and we are glad to do it.”

Others said the doll was simply creepy looking. Joseph McQuaid, publisher of newhampshire.com, said the elf scared his grandson Ike, who demanded it be removed from the home.

“I’m with Ike,” McQuaid wrote. “Santa is nice, but only when served in moderation.”