It seems that people either love the Elf on the Shelf tradition or they hate it. Personally, I think it’s fun and whimsical, and that’s why I was so excited when we received one as a gift years ago. I quickly realized though how easy it is to burn out doing this relentless daily activity.
Three years ago when I was reevaluating my family’s traditions in an effort to simplify and bring more meaning to Christmas, I began questioning whether the Elf on the Shelf tradition would make the cut. I still liked the concept of it, but man alive I wanted it to be about more than a mischievous elf who creates great photo ops for Pintrest and Instagram. Maybe you feel the same way.
I started brainstorming ways to take it to the next level. Here are 9 ideas to get your creative juices flowing if you feel this tradition needs a revamp in your home too. Maybe one of them will help you overhaul your elf’s antics!
1. Secret Service Elf: This elf likes to encourage service and kind acts of love. He shows up outside someone’s door each morning or even hangs on their door knob. Everyone wonders who the elf will choose? Whoever he selects (parents included), that person becomes the elf’s secret helper in spreading cheer to others. That person would be invited to perform an act of service or kindness for someone else that day. Then they would share with the family what they did later that evening. The year we did this in our family we shared our daily acts of service before our evening prayers.
2. Mission Impossible Elf: Have the elf deliver a super special mission you can complete as a family. Maybe it’s daily or maybe he only appears once a week. Make it as simple as possible. That’s 4 or 5 weeks of the elf bringing a top-secret mission for your family to accomplish like visiting an elderly neighbor, caroling, delivering neighbor gifts, or performing the 12-days of Christmas.
3. Hide and Seek Story Elf: If your family loves reading Christmas books each evening like ours does, hide the elf each day with the Christmas book that you will read that afternoon or evening. That way they still get to look for him and you can pick which book you have the time to read based on your family activities for the day (and your energy level–ha, ha).
4. Quote Elf: Instead of dishing up mischief, this elf loves to share his wisdom. He shows up in a similar spot each day but provides a new thought or quote to ponder. That would definitely start the day off right. This would take a little planning up front but would make it easy to maintain since you don’t have to move him around unless you want to. You could write the quotes on a post-it note and quickly switch them out each evening or before your kids wake up in the morning.
5. Advent Elf: This idea came from Brenda at Paper Heart Family. It’s kind of a mashup between the quote elf and the mission impossible elf. Basically he appears each day with a new uplifting message or activity that the kids can use to count down the days until Christmas. Brenda includes a calendar for planning (can we say impressed?), and she has many other Elf on the Shelf resources. She includes another idea I liked of a scavenger hunt elf as well.
6. Crazy Cousin Elf: Why recreate the time-consuming madness of others? This elf understands that laughter is a great remedy for stress and so likes to show you how crazy his cousins are, making you laugh in the process. Just print out 24 pics of the clever and hilarious Elf on the Shelf ideas from Pintrest and have a ball laughing at them while enjoying the fact that you aren’t recreating them yourself. This revamp makes it easy to get a chuckle in every day which is awesome because laughter is a great remedy for holiday stress!
7. Love You Elf: This may be the most time consuming in terms of preparation before December, but I also love it because it can really allow you to share with your child what you love about them. You can write on post-it notes one thing you love about your child each day (or you can rotate if you have more than one child). You could tell them this is something the elf overhears his parents say about them. It’s a sentimental way to shake it up. I also read of one mother who writes letters to her child through the elf and their child writes one back. Those letters would become so valuable if you collected them each year. While it may be time consuming to personalize these each day, I can’t think of a more beautiful and heart-warming shake up for this elf tradition.
8. Musical Elf: Most likely there is a similar time you wake up each morning, so put this elf to good use by waking everyone up with a special Christmas song. Maybe you’re in the mood for a little Mariah singing All I Want for Christmas or for something more peaceful like Silent Night. If you have little ones that you wouldn’t dream of waking up in the morning, you could also play the song on your phone at night right before bedtime. It could replace your nighttime lullaby. Music is such a huge part of the holidays. So.many.ways.
9. Part-time Elf: Why does the elf need to come for the entire month? Maybe there are a few cutbacks in the North Pole (yup), and he can only come the last 5 days before Christmas (the most important days on Santa’s list, right?) You could also pick and choose from all these ideas. Heck, maybe the elf wants to try something different each week to see what he likes best or just because he enjoys the variety.
Even if you haven’t pulled out your elf this year (like us), it’s not too late to try one of these revamped options which are infused with kindness, service, learning, and creativity while keeping it fun. If you’re on the fence about this tradition, maybe give it one more year with a revamped idea before you decide to ditch it. If it still doesn’t work for you or your family, don’t force it. Lean into what they do love.
Also if you’re looking for other ideas on simplifying your holiday traditions in order to feel greater joy this Christmas, check out this post.
I hope that by sharing these ideas it encourages you to search for other ways to make your traditions easy and doable while also teaching much-needed values at the same time. Happy Elfing! What are some ways you and your family have revamped this tradition to make it your own? I would love to hear your comments below.