Many of the family traditions that we have adopted into our family have purpose and intentionality behind them; others are just plain crazy fun – like this one ( full tradition idea at bottom of post).
Meet Carl: Our Family Elf
(Thanks to the The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition from Amazon.)
This is one of those traditions that has made a notable impact in just two years.
I never thought that my kids would get lost in this imaginary fun SO much, but when our youngest asked throughout the year when “Carl” was coming back, I knew this was here to stay.
For us, Carl seems to return on December 1st (you choose the tradition behind his arrival).
This year, I forgot. I gasped in horror at my horrible Mommy moment, and ran to the attic to release Carl to his rightful place, then watched in delight as the kids woke up to find he had returned.
In the photos, I tried to recreate Emma’s reaction…obviously, it didn’t work, but she started screaming, jumping up and down while clapping her hands as fast as they would flutter, “Carl’s back, Mommy, Carl’s back…Christmas is coming.”

All the kids LOVE Carl, and my nephews are now asking when their Elf is coming. My older boys’ role is key in hiding him, and helping “Carl,” i.e. Mom, remember to move each night.
One night Carl “fell asleep” and didn’t switch spots, but what occurred from this was sheer wonder in the magic of this tradition.
My 9 year old daughter fell asleep on the sofa. My hubby was too tired to carry her up, so he just covered her up and left her. She slept through the night, and I never gave a thought to Carl. In the morning, I realized that Carl hadn’t moved, but I never said a thing. Our 9 year old explained to our 5 year old, “I was sleeping down here all night, so he must have known he couldn’t move until I went upstairs.”
The floors were even scrubbed vigorously yesterday by my daughter and nephews after my nephews touched Carl and they knew that was a “no – no.”
On their own, they started cleaning to try and make penance for what they had done (I was giggling so hard, since I hadn’t said a word)!!

Sheer JOY at Carl’s return!

Here’s the concept from “The Elf on the Shelf.”

Honestly, our family focuses on the real story of St. Nick and doesn’t do much with Santa, so when I was given this Elf as a gift, it was out of our typical realm.

I think it would be precious to do this same idea with a snow man or even hide a wise man each night and twist the tradition idea to have the wise man searching for the baby Jesus. Then on Christmas morn, the wise man could find his rightful place in the nativity scene (just Jen’s two cents. 🙂

The first time our elf arrived at our home, the children officially adopted him by giving him a name. Each year he would arrive around the holidays. His sole responsibility was to watch the children’s behavior and report it to Santa (St. Nick) each night. The next morning after the children awoke, they discovered the elf had returned from the North Pole and was now resting in a new and different place.(That’s the real fun for parents, is embracing the creative aspect of all the different places your elf shows up.)
My children would race each other out of bed to try and be the first to spy him in his new position.

Over the years the tradition was perfected and rules were introduced. For example, to better preserve his mystique the children were not allowed to touch him but talking to him was a different matter all together. My children shared many secrets with the elf, and while he was under strict order not to talk to him, the elf was under no such orders where grown-ups were concerned.

Unwittingly, the tradition provided an added benefit: it helped the children to better control themselves. All it took was a gentle reminder that the “elf is watching,” for errant behavior to be modified.

Start this one next year – you won’t be disappointed.
I have been trying to catch up with my Christmas ideas/traditions all week, browse around and find something new for this year or next. More to come, including our all time favorite Jesse Tree for the Advent Season.