The thought of moving a stuffed elf all over the house, coming up with creative antics every day leading up to a season already jam-packed with to-dos, to-buys, to-bakes, to-cleans, and to-decorates is nuttier than a nutcracker. It’s just one more thing to add to an already hectic cheer-filled holiday season.
I get it, we were there too. Until one day we weren’t.
We saw him lying on a table at a local yard sale. This tiny little goofy thing, being pawned off for a whopping 50 cents. I scooped him up in my palm, looked down at his rosy cheeks and goofy grin, glanced at my husband, and we both agreed that this was going to happen.
We had literally just discussed all of the reasons we were NOT going to become an Elf of the Shelf family. Yet here we were, with our newly adopted “Elfie” and we were going to do this right, in a way that worked best for our family.
Secret #1: Stroke of Genius
The first stroke of genius came when I put my husband in charge of implementation. Part elf himself, he has a knack for playful creativity, and frankly I just didn’t have room for one more thing on my cookie plate that year. He gladly accepted the challenge.
Secret #2: Elfin’ Grace
However, knowing that he too is often exhausted and overloaded at the end of the day, we also developed some parameters. Some may call it elfin’ grace. The first rule of operations was that Elfie does not have to come out on a set date every year. Sometimes he may come on the 1st, sometimes the 15th. We just never know when he might show up. (Bonus tip: this year he can quarantine for 14 days after arrival. Even better, here’s a free printable to make it happen!)The other key piece is that the very first night we put Elfie on the shelf, he came with a note that explained how he works. “My home is on the mantle, but sometimes I get into mischief and you may find me somewhere else. Help me be a good elf and put me back on the shelf!!!”In giving him the ability to “behave” and stay on the shelf, we gave ourselves the out on the nights we just didn’t have it in us. It also ended up morphing into a few things we hadn’t anticipated!
Secret #3: Lessons Learned
Right away, the kids were learning about listening, respect, and doing the right thing. On the days he didn’t move, they weren’t disappointed. They would congratulate him and give him positive reinforcement for staying on the shelf like a good little elf. On the days they came down and found the shelf bare, they’d sigh and say, “What has Elfie gotten into?” They’d find him, sometimes chuckle at the things he did, but more often they’d just bring him directly back to his spot and remind him that he should try to stay there at night. (I’d love to say that this translated into them cleaning up their toys as well, but this isn’t a Hallmark movie.)
Secret #4: Practicality
Another wonderful tradition that came with our elf is that he serves as a lead-in to our day. So instead of “another thing to do” he just flows right in with what we were going to do anyway. On the day we’re going to decorate the tree, he brings the kids pajamas and they will find him hiding in the tree holding an ornament and a note inviting them to join him. When it’s time to bake cookies, he will have made a mess with the ingredients and provided them with the materials they will need to bake that day. He’s been found riding a train as a precursor to an evening on the Polar Express, snuggled up by the fireplace with a pile of Christmas books, holding a huge empty bin inviting them to go through their toys and find things to donate to children who might not have as many as they do. Last year, he even gave them a kindness challenge and encouraged them to spread joy in other ways throughout the season.
Secret #5: Tradition
Over the years, the kids have begun looking forward to certain Elfin traditions, so we truly only have time to come up with one or two new things. It’s really a Christmas miracle.
You will not find any judgment here if you opt to keep that elf on the store shelf. I get it. Completely. However, when we found a way to integrate him with our family, he was no longer a burden and instead began adding to our holiday cheer.