Instead of Elf on the Shelf, We Do this

I love Christmas traditions. Every year, we decorate the tree the day after Thanksgiving. We bake cookies from scratch and make a gingerbread house. We buy brand new Christmas pajamas to wear on Christmas Eve, and we use an Advent calendar to help us countdown the days until Christmas finally arrives.

But there’s one tradition I could never get into. From the moment I first heard the words “Elf on the Shelf,” I just knew I would have to pass. The idea of an elf moving around our house as we slept creeped me out. Not to mention, I just couldn’t wrap my head around creating a whole elaborate make-believe story about this elf. I just don’t think I would be able to keep up the charade.

I’m not a grinch about imagination and magic. My kids still fully believe in Santa Claus. But to be perfectly honest, even though we take a picture with Santa at the mall every year, we don’t make a big deal out of Santa in our house. We don’t threaten our kids with the line, “You better not be naughty or Santa won’t bring any presents!” We don’t even talk about him much at all. We tell the kids he will bring one or two presents for each of them on Christmas Eve, and that’s it. We try to keep the focus on the other fun aspects of Christmas. If my kids really pressed me on the issue, I would probably cave and admit the truth about good ol’ St. Nick. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up believing in Santa Claus, but I’m not sure how to approach the subject. So in order to keep the story going a little longer, I just avoid mentioning him. Imagine if I had to pretend about Santa Claus AND an elf that messes around with our house every single day. I wouldn’t be able to last.

Also, as a Christian family we want our kids to remember that the reason we, as a family, are celebrating this holiday is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. A couple of years ago, I introduced our kids to The Star from Afar. It’s a little wooden nativity set with a big Star of Bethlehem. Every night, we take turns hiding the star somewhere in the house, and the rest of the family has to find it in the morning. On Christmas Eve, we place the Star over the little Baby Jesus in the manger. I like this tradition for three main reasons:

1) For me, it’s less stressful to simply hide a star than to come up with different ways for a pretend elf to be mischievous for 24 nights in a row.

2) It’s fun for the kids to participate in hiding and finding the Star.

3) It commemorates a treasured Bible story that helps our kids remember why we celebrate Christmas.

I know some families adore the Elf on the Shelf, and I say more power to them. If the Elf adds to the joy and wonder of the holidays for your family, then you should do it. But if the Elf adds stress, drop it! We have enough going on at this time of year — I’m not going to add a tradition that brings unnecessary pressure simply because everyone else is doing it. I’m glad I was able to find a similar tradition that actually works for our family. My kids will still experience joy this Christmas, just not through the meddlesome acts of a magical elf.