The Elf is on the loose.
As early as the day after Thanksgiving and up until the night before Christmas, a mischievous elf keeps a watchful eye on children’s behavior to report to the jolly ol’ guy with The List.
It’s a fairly recent holiday tradition launched by an author who wrote a children’s book about her family’s tradition.
Once the family goes to bed each night, the elf flies back to the North Pole to make a daily report to Santa. He’s found in a new spot each morning and can’t be touched for fear of losing his magic.
Some say the elf is creepy with his ever-present gaze, while others are delighted by his antics. Every day, the scene of the elven crime changes.
It’s easy to go Pinterest-overboard with this modern-day holiday tradition. But kept in its proper perspective, the Elf on the Shelf — or the new Mensch on a Bench for Jewish families — can be a way to bring back that holiday spark.
Alison Hoette, 38, of Clayton, Mo., noticed last year that the eldest of her three children, Charlie, 8, had started questioning the whole Santa process.
“We weren’t ready to give it up yet,” she said.
Enter Nick the Elf. He arrived on their front porch gift-wrapped and bearing a note from the North Pole.
Santa wrote that he had heard that someone in the house was questioning the spirit of Christmas. He sent an elf to keep an eye on things and remind them to keep the spirit of Christmas in their hearts.
“We did it for over three weeks,” she said. “He’s not going to arrive quite as early in December this year.”
It was hard to come up with ideas for that long, she added.
Their 6-year-old was amazed each morning. The 8-year-old was skeptical at first, but he loved waking up and finding the elf in all these precarious situations. “We really went all out,” she confessed.
One day, they used a helium balloon, tied strings and made a basket of a Solo cup and suspended him in there. The next day, they cut the basket off and had him hanging by the strings.
Because the Hoette family also celebrates Hanukkah, one night they brought out gelt, Christmas cereal, and doughnuts. Nick got into all the food, with powdered sugar all over himself, while playing the dreidel. And he had somehow dyed the milk green.
Some elf scenes took more time than others. Hoette alternated between time-consuming and more manageable.
“I loved seeing the kids getting so excited and such a kick out of the situation,” she said. “It did help keep the spirit of holidays in house.”
Her children would be excited to go to school and tell their friends where the elf had been found that morning.
Nick also came in handy a few times when the children were more naughty than nice. In the mornings, the children would find just his hat and note from the North Pole, saying that Nick had been requested to come home since the children had not been listening. Once they began behaving, he reappeared.
“They did manage to get their acts together, and he came back.” The family has a snow cone machine, and Nick left a trail of snow behind him when he came trudging back into the house.
“Elf on the Shelf” creator and author Carol V. Aebersold has said that she’s surprised how far her own family’s tradition has spread. The original “Elf on the Shelf” has sold more than 6 million copies since 2005. Her book spawned a website, ElfonTheShelf.com, which gets more than 2 million visitors a month. A holiday TV show, “The Elf on the Shelf: An Elf’s Story,” aired on CBS for the third year in a row. The recognizable Elf made his second appearance in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
We scoured all forms of social media to find the most creative approaches to the Elf or the Mensch.
These ideas might inspire parents to do something a little less stressful than shopping among crowds, a little more fun than cleaning before entertaining.
Keep in mind: The goal is to make a little (or big) person smile. The Elf or Mensch are meant to help foster that sense of childhood holiday magic.
1. Create a vignette involving other characters
—GI Joes, army men or “Star Wars” figures can be used to tie the elf around an indoor tree, like a hostage.
—Barbies can be posed in a YMCA dance sequence with an elf.
—The elf might be found playing cards or board games with stuffed animals, having tea with dolls or hanging out with Barbie in a boat, spa or dollhouse.
2. Make mischief around the house
—Rest him on picture frames and draw silly faces on picture glass, using erasable markers, of course.
—He might be found hanging from artwork or wrapping an entire toilet shut.
—He could be propped against a wall, erasable crayon or marker in hand, with writing on the walls.
3. Leave a watchful message
—Spell out “Be good” in green and red M&Ms next to him.
—Leave a message with toothpaste on the sink with him holding the paste or on a toothbrush.
—Pose him with crayons, paper and a personalized drawing left behind.
4. Hatch some holiday pranks
—Catch him TP’ing the tree.
—Find him hanging on the stocking holders with undies left in place of socks.
—Surround the elf with toys that have been taken apart, Legos unassembled.
5. Punk the children
—Discover a red-colored nose in the morning with a note to look in the mirror.
—Find the elf writing a naughty list with letters starting with children’s names.
—Catch him in the sock drawer, putting mismatched pairs together, with every pair of socks mismatched.
6. Cook up food follies
—He might be chilling in a tub of marshmallows filled in the sink to look like a bubble bath or in a bowl of marshmallows in the kitchen.
—Find him sneaking in the pantry in the cookies with a trail of crumbs on his face.
—Use a roasted marshmallow and a tooth pick in front of a candle to have him making s’mores.
7. Model good behavior
—Pose him surrounded by a big stack of books, reading.
—Find him wrapping gifts under the tree.
—Have him doing chores: Folding doll clothes, doing dollhouse laundry, setting up doll dishes, washing dishes.
8. Embrace the outdoors
—He can be rock climbing with pieces of putty on the wall.
—Have him fishing with gold fish crackers and a homemade rod and string.
—Fill cookie sheets with powdered sugar or flour and have your elf make snow angels in it.
9. Encourage family fun; have the elf suggest game night activities
—He can be playing Yahtzee, Monopoly or other board games.
—Sit him in an “Angry Birds” catapult, on a dart board, playing at a pool table.
—Have him holding the Wii remote in front of the TV.
10. Celebrate the meaning of the season
—He can be reading the Bible or Torah.
—Your elf could be placing baby Jesus in a nativity scene.
—He could light a menorah.