5 Fantastic Elf on the Shelf Alternatives You’ll Wanna Start This Year

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If Elf on the Shelf isn’t for you, here are five Elf on the Shelf alternatives for your family. Start a great new family Christmas tradition that you can totally get behind this year.I LOVE these Elf on the Shelf Alternative Ideas for counting down to Christmas! I don't know which unique advent activity idea is my favorite for my family!

Just before Christmas last year, my kids were 3½ and 1½ and I was 37 weeks pregnant.  And I turned into a crazy person.  I had this super intense need to make the looming holiday mean something “more”.  I scoured Pinterest, and I harassed my family and friends about their traditions.   I needed to find a way to connect my kids to the meaning of the holiday and not to the fluff.

And then I gave birth to our third minion two days before Christmas.  So much for all my hard hours of Pinterest browsing.

The feeling of needing a deeper connection to each holiday has stayed with me throughout this year.  Some holidays were easy to plan meaningful family traditions.  Some holidays I apparently don’t care much about (I really haven’t figured out why yet).  And some I spent hours, days, weeks, months agonizing over.  I actually think my husband’s head would explode if I pestered him one more time about Easter.  Easter Bunny? Or no Easter Bunny?  That is the question.  Do it.  Don’t.  Do it.  Don’t.  Do it.  Don’t.  Ugh, I’m still not convinced I figured that one out.

This year my kids are 4½, 2½ and almost 1.  And Pinterest is overflowing with Elf on the Shelf stuff.  Am I the only one who not only finds that little guy kind of creepy but also thinks a lot of the suggestions are just plain naughty!?  That little guy gets into so much trouble while kids aren’t looking.  My kids definitely don’t need help coming up with naughty things to do.  I know there are ton of Elf on the Shelf supporters/promoters/groupies.  But he just isn’t for us.

So what do I do instead?  Here are five ideas I found.  I love them all.  I’m not sure I can decide which I love best yet.  We may just have to try them all.

Five Alternatives to the Elf on the Shelf

I LOVE these Elf on the Shelf Alternative Ideas for counting down to Christmas! I don't know which unique advent activity idea is my favorite for my family!1. Christmas Service Star

Natalie at Let’s Get Together posted this idea, she writes: “You make, re-purpose, or find a star that accompanies small acts of service throughout the month of December. When you’re anonymously served and the star is left on your sneakily-made bed or in your miraculously-emptied dishwasher, it’s your turn. You have 24 hours to pass on the star by doing something for someone else.”

I love this idea because it encourages service within the home.  We have been using a kindness jar all year with our kids.  For each act of unprompted kindness, we add a marble to the jar.  When the jar is full, we go get a treat.  It has really encouraged our oldest to serve her younger siblings and allows us to praise our middle child who spends his entire day doing small acts of kindness that “never” get noticed.  I feel like the Christmas Star is a great enhancement to this for Christmas in our home.  And our kids will love helping decorate the family star.

I LOVE these Elf on the Shelf Alternative Ideas for counting down to Christmas! I don't know which unique advent activity idea is my favorite for my family!2. A Book a Day

Jesse at the Vanderbilt Wife collected a list of 25 Jesus Centered Books.  You could read one each day during December.

In reality you could read any book, one each day.  But centering the entire month of Christ just sounds so wonderful.  And let’s be honest, we might open one book each day but I’m fooling myself if I think I will only read one book a day to my kids.  I love reading to them! I think if I add on the Truth in the Tinsel daily scripture and craft ideas in addition, we’d really be onto something magical!

3. Other Daily Hide ‘N’ Seek Objects

I LOVE these Elf on the Shelf Alternative Ideas for counting down to Christmas! I don't know which unique advent activity idea is my favorite for my family!Rascally Reindeer

My kids are huge (and I mean H.U.G.E.) hide-and-seek fans right now.  They love, love, love it!  We even play hide-and-seek with their stuffed animals (mommy hides the animal and they have to find it).  So when I read this one I thought it was a great, fun option as well.  Not every tradition needs to be so loaded with meaning.  I do want my kids to have fun too.

Jackie at Happy Hooligans posted this idea.  She crafted up some reindeer and hides them in a different spot every day.  I’m so in love this with idea!

shepherd-on-the-search-dayspring-elf-on-the-shelf-alternativeThe Shepherd on the Search

Very similar to the Rascally Reindeer, but with an awesome focus on the true meaning of Christmas is DaySpring’s Shepherd on the Search. Instead of hiding a reindeer (or that darn naughty Elf on the Shelf), you hide a shepherd, who is on the search for Jesus’ arrival, ending Christmas day with him finding the Nativity. And bonus, the whole set comes with a book (yeah for more books!), CD, the Shepherd, and a little Nativity for just $30.

the-kindness-elves-an-alternative-elf-on-the-shelf-tradition-for-families-656x10004. Kindness Elves

This one might be my favorite.  (Okay, so they are all my favorite, but who’s counting?).  Anna at The Imagination Tree posted this idea and I love it.  Did I mention it’s my favorite?

Kindness Elves are kind of like Elf on the Shelf.  They are around all the time.  But they do and promote acts of service instead of, well, Elf stuff.  Anna writes:

They (the elves) say that they have come to share the magic of Christmas and have heard that the children have kind and loving hearts, and they want to see them for themselves! They let the children know that they will be putting out little notes each day, either praising them for the kind acts they have witnessed, or suggesting more ways we can help others either at home, school, community groups or in public.

We will for sure implement this tradition this year.  It’s wonderful.  I love that the elves make suggestions for acts of service. And I especially love the aspect that the elves will sometimes do a bit of service for members of the household too. If you want to join me, pick up your own unique Kindness Elves set (they’re only $24.78).

I LOVE these Elf on the Shelf Alternative Ideas for counting down to Christmas! I don't know which unique advent activity idea is my favorite for my family!5. Secret Santa

This one is close to my heart and I shared my experience with Secret Santa on Embracing The Eternal as well.

When I was nine, my parents asked us if we wanted to do Secret Santa for a family in our neighborhood.  We would have to sacrifice any gift giving within our immediate family.  We all agreed wholeheartedly.  We immediately started shopping and collecting stuff to go in the box.  We decorated it and waited impatiently for the delivery night to arrive.

The night of the delivery arrived – or “covert ops” – and we were giddy with excitement.  We loaded up in our car and drove to drop off our gift.  Considering we wanted to keep it a secret, my dad hopped out and ran the box up to their door.  He rang their doorbell and high-tailed it back to our car parked down the street.  Knowing they would catch us if we tried to drive away, we all huddled into our seats and watched them open their door and discover the box.  Once the coast was clear we drove home.

We never found out what happened when they opened the door and found the box.  I am pretty sure it included a ton of astonished looks, giddy laughter, and happy hearts.

I can’t wait to start this one with our kids.  Focusing outwards is living a big life and I want my kids to life big, huge, kind lives.

Happy Holiday Planning and Pinterest Hunting!

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  1. says

    Thanks for linking to my post! I can’t do anything that involves remembering something after kids go to bad or making more messes for me to clean. The elf is not for us! But some of these other ideas are great.

  2. Elizabeth Garrison says

    A blog post I love!!! I have ALWAYS disliked that creepy little elf! Of course I was the MEANEST mom that ever walked the earth because year after year I would not cave in and purchase said elf. I hate to admit it, but I almost did cave last year after her non stop pestering and my own guilt from thinking back to sad memories when our mom never did St. Nicholas night on Dec. 5th for us. , However, when I saw his price tag I could not justify it whatsoever! I love the star. We have already been doing the secret Santa most of her entire life. Our church branch takes about a dozen names off the Helping hands/giving angle tree they have at the local Walmart. We also ring the bells every year for the local food pantry. This post really has me thinking of some of my own creative ideas for this season. Thanks for sharing AND not falling into that silly elf well of mischief! I really liked the Shepard on the search idea as well, but I have to tell the truth, I don’t care for that particular Shepard. You, as an artist, should be able to respect my opinion of what is acceptable to ones own taste when it comes to creativity. That Shepard would drive me insane after about an hour of looking at him. 😀 I was thinking of like an entire nativity scene out on the search. If that makes sense. Like every night it is a different animal or wise man, Shepard, ect…then tell the correlating story of each piece from the Bible….Get the kids involved, have each child research the particular character and report on little things. Like what do the sheep eat? Why do we have shepherds in the field? What is frankincense? Why did they have the wise men riding camels? ect… Thanks again! Great post.

  3. Cynthia Nagy says

    I am a mother of four, full-time teacher, full-time student, and have a husband who works nights. The children are 8, 10, 12, and 14. We have had very different Christmases over the years because at one time my husband was out of work for eight years. We received everything from the Christmas tree to the Christmas food on down to the clothes and gifts. We were barely making ends meet for two of those Christmases. We have spent many seasons working to help our children learn to care for others, take care of the environment, provide service around the house, and keep up with what they are supposed to in the form of chores, personal hygiene, and school.

    We have the elf on the shelf but with a twist. Our elf and Santa leave messages all year long about how our children are behaving and what could be worked on as well as what they did a good job on. The letters are either left with the elf or magically print out of our printer. The elf is more of a fun tradition as we do not make a big deal about buying gifts. The kids like looking for the elf more than anything else.

    The kids always get books from mom, a toy from dad, and everyone draws names to make gifts for each other. The Santa gifts are personal items that they need anyway and can fit in their stocking. Items such as nail polish, small cars, socks, fun LITTLE toys are what go into the stocking and that’s what Santa brings. One of the two years that we could not afford gifts for anyone including our children was the most precious memory I have. My eldest, who was about eight at the time, determined that her cousins could not go without a gift from us. We could not afford to buy one, so she led her siblings into their playroom and proceeded to pick out their favorite toys to wrap and give as gifts to their cousins. That tells me we have done something right with our children and have taught them the true meaning of Christmas.

    The elf on the shelf can be just a fun activity to help the children stay focused. We do not make a big deal about gifts and the Santa gifts are not huge and expensive. The focus stays on the season and what we can do with the items around us to bring joy to others. The elf just helps the kids to realize it needs to happen at home too.

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