Okay, so, I have a four year old. I may have mentioned this before. What I might have failed to mention is that before said child entered my life, I was completely oblivious to kid things. I was totally uninterested in anything that appealed to small, sticky hands attached to little bodies of children, who in my opinion whined about everything, and always seemed to have snotty noses. I know, I sound like a perfect parent in the making. But let me explain: once I had my own sticky-handed-whiner, things changed. Suddenly, the whining wasn’t so annoying (okay, well, it’s still pretty annoying, but she doesn’t do it that much…) and the snotty noses were no biggie (gross, and true). Having a child of my own meant suddenly having to think on her level and be in-the-know with all the stuff that intrigues their little minds. Now I have indelibly etched on my brain, the theme song to Yo Gabba Gabba, the names of all the characters from In The Night Garden, and don’t even get me started on all the things I will never be able to forget from Calliou. And as her tastes mature, my daughter (and I, by default) become ensconced in My Little Pony, Sofia the First, and somebody help me, Monster High. I know all their names, their backstories, their struggles. They’re like friends, only they’re the friends you wish you didn’t have.
As my daughter’s interests expands and mature so does both her understanding and excitement over holidays. First, it was Hallowe’en. “Mommy, next year I want a graveyard on our lawn”. “Mommy, I’m going to be a zombie next year. Brraaaaiins, I love brains!” (seriously, who is this kid?!). Now, it’s: “Mommy, when is Santa coming?” “Mommy, can we make Christmas cookies again today?” “Mommy, daddy’s being naughty, I don’t think Santa’s going to give him anything this year” (did I mention my daughter is also incredibly astute?).
An Elf on My Shelf???
Since she’s already talking Christmas in November, I thought it might be fun to extend the holiday by incorporating the Elf on the Shelf nonsense. Yes, I know, it’s been around for ages, and no, until now it so did not apply to my life. And yes, I’m probably beating a dead horse here when I say: Elf on the shelf is everywhere. EVERYWHERE. And he’s cute all sitting there on shelves, getting into mischief, leaving little Elf prints in sugar or knocking over rolls of toilet paper. Elf on the shelf is pretty funny. I thought my daughter might like to see a little Elf everyday doing cool stuff, but once I started looking into the concept of the Elf, I got a little sad. See, the elf’s job is to spy on your child to make sure he or she is being good. At night, off the Elf flies to the North Pole to report the days activities to Santa. So, basically the message your child gets is that being good=presents. Now, there’s nothing wrong with incentives to help your child appreciate the rewards of good behaviour, however, it screamed a little too much 1984 for me. I still loved the idea of a cute Elf doing stuff, but I didn’t want the focus to be on this Elf watching my daughter’s every move.
And not because I’m such an awesome, holistic, I-could-homeschool-but-I-don’t-mommy, but because I was guilty of the whole “if you don’t stop right now, I’m telling Santa” thing. The sheer panic on her face at the thought of me divulging her bad behavior to the big guy with the bag of presents, was enough to arrest me and make me reconsider my words. I didn’t want to be that mom. I didn’t want my daughter to think that the holidays were just about presents. Of course, I don’t think I had ever really thought about the moral implications of what Christmas meant to me until I had my daughter. Now it’s all about those thoughts. What does Christmas really mean? What am I going to emphasize in our home?
A Case For The Magic of Christmas Elf.
This got me to thinking: how could I use the Elf on the Shelf concept, while at the same time teach my daughter some important life skills? It occurred to me that the Elf might come our home each Christmas, not to spy, but to share. Why couldn’t this little Elf share the magic of Christmas? So, I googled. I googled and googled. I wish I could say that this practically brilliant idea was mine alone, but alas, many other parents have already come up with variations on my brainchild. I liked what I saw. People were using their little Elves to teach and inspire, instead of putting the focus on being good just to get gifts.
There were quite a few good ideas out there, but in the end I had to keep it real for my family. I don’t want to do stuff that we would never do any other time of the year. We are just not those people who would ever, say, go and give foot massages to our neighbours, or stand on street corners collecting dentures for the homeless. I chose things that we could do anytime of the year. I want my daughter to grow up making soup for sick friends and casseroles for the grieving. I want her to be generous with her donations, and her time. And hey, if she decides she wants to start a campaign for dentures for the homeless, then I’ll be right there, rummaging through old teeth with her.
So, here’s what I’ve come up with:
I found an adorable Elf, who shall forevermore be The Magic of Christmas Elf in our home.
I made a list of 24 ideas, one for each day of December until Christmas eve. They are all things that are reasonably easy to do and don’t take up a lot of time/energy/preparation, because, let’s be honest, elaborate schemes are awesome in theory, but when it’s Wednesday night and you’ve run out of milk and can’t remember what you were supposed to make for dinner and your husband suddenly needs a shirt ironed while your kid has a bloody nose and the dog is chasing raccoons out of your backyard, elaborate suddenly seems much less appealing.
The Magic of Christmas Elf arrives on December 1st, with a little note and a small gift (like a pair of Christmas socks or a Holiday book).
The note introduces the Elf and tells the child about how Santa sends special Elves to the homes of little boys and girls who have extra kind and loving hearts. The Elf loves to watch the child help mommy and daddy, do good things, etc, and in return will share the magic of Christmas by leaving a little note every morning for the child. It’s pretty easy to personalize.
Then each night before you go to bed, place your Elf somewhere age appropriate for your child to find. There are tons of funny/clever ideas around. Pinterest is your friend.
For example, one of the days could be a note that says “let’s bake cookies for _____” . You could have your elf popping out of a mixing bowl with some of the ingredients for the cookies, or sitting on a favourite cookbook opened to a particular cookie recipe.
Or, say, your child did something really awesome or kind the previous day, you could have the Elf leave a note praising that action or deed, and have a little treat with the note.
A great one I saw around is encouraging your child through a note from the Elf to donate some of the toys they don’t use to those less fortunate. What a great way to organize their toys AND teach them the importance of giving.
It doesn’t always have to be so moral: what about putting out an old scarf, a carrot, some buttons and a hat, with a note that reads: “Let’s build a snowman!”
Some other great ideas I’ll be using this season:
Make holiday cards for family and friends
DIY ornaments as gifts
A new book to read together
Pinecone bird feeders
A scavenger hunt-to find treats or non-food goodies like stickers, crayons, etc.
Forage the pantry for non-perishibles to donate to the food bank and then take them to the food bank (if you have one nearby)
Buy a new toy to donate—give them a budget and let them choose the item
Make a jar with 20 things I love about you and give it to the person of their choice
Make a meal for someone who is sick/busy/grieving/just because
The possibilities are really endless. My only advice is to just keep it real. Kids are pretty savy and know when you’re not being sincere. Most importantly, have fun!