The "Elf on a Shelf" -- holiday fun for your family

by Julie Snyder

Elf on a Shelf"You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I'm telling you why..."

As a child, a present from Santa may have encouraged good behavior during the holiday season.

Something or someone new's out there!

It might be time to move over Santa. Make way for the elf!

A few years ago, hardly anyone had heard about these little helpers that keep tabs on kids.

Now it seems, almost every family has an "elf."

Will you be participating in this new holiday tradition? Do you think the "Elf" replaces Santa?

"The Elf on a Shelf" -- in the beginning

Carol Aebersold was suffering empty nest syndrome. Her twin daughters suggested that they write a book based on the family's Christmas tradition, their elf, Fisbee.

Fisbee arrived every Thanksgiving. Each morning until Christmas Eve, the girls would race out of bed to see where he was hiding today.

Years later, daughter Christa realized that no other families shared that ritual. Certain that others would fall in love with the tradition, she quit her job, moved back to Georgia and helped produce the book.

Welcoming the "Elf" into your home

In 2005, the elf and his book, "The Elf on the Shelf" made their debut. Have you wondered how Santa keeps track of all these kids? The word's out. He sends a scouting elf on a mission to see if the kids are naughty or nice.

"Elf on a Shelf" rules and facts

• Give your elf a name.
• Be kind and thoughtful. No good deed goes unnoticed by the little guy.
• Head to bed; while you sleep, the elf flies off to the North Pole and reports to Santa.
• Wake up; find where he ended up and what he's been doing. Yours might hide in the freezer, in your underwear drawer or peek down from a picture frame.
• Don't touch the elf or he loses his magic.
• On Christmas Eve, say, "Good-bye. See you again next Christmas season!"

This tradition takes the "Santa is watching you" concept to a whole new -- and incredibly fun -- level. Your child sets off on a scavenger hunt every day and you have a new creative outlet.

✓ Where can he hide tomorrow?
✓ Should he be naughty or nice?
✓ How much mess do I feel like cleaning up?

Tips and ideas

High-flying elf: Harness your elf to a balloon and let him float around all day.

Watch your shoes: Set the little guy in shoe, holding the laces as if guiding a sleigh.

Inspire reading, writing and imagination. Leave the elf by a new book or leave it with holding a note that asks your child to finish elf's half-written story.

Just watching the treats: Dribble cookie crumbs on the elf and leave him next to the cookies, as if he ate some.

Giving back: Have your elf leave money and ask that it be used to buy a toy for toys for tots or leave a note asking your child to gather old clothing to donate.

Hanging out with the "Elf"

"Elfie is an adorable little spy for Santa. Each night he flies back to the North Pole to file his report, and each morning a 'scavenger hunt' ensues to see where he's landed. Our elf gets harder to find as Christmas approaches. Last year, Grace woke us up with laughter when she found him sitting on her potty," Ellie says.

Lillie shares, "It's so much fun. This morning, he was snuggling with Jason's puppy in a "towel" watching Jason's brand new movie. Tonight Ichabod will decorate his Christmas tree with his underwear and socks. Tomorrow night, he'll bring the stuff to make homemade cookies for Jason's teachers next week."

"My younger boys love finding the elf in different places. One year, I forgot to remove him on Christmas Eve. My kids asked why he was still there. I told them that Johnny liked them so much that he wanted to see them open their presents," Carolyn admits.

Has your family adopted the 'Elf on a Shelf" tradition? What fun and crazy things will your elf do this year?