Elf on the Shelf Alternatives

10 fun Elf on the Shelf Alternatives from TruthintheTinsel.com

I know people love the Elf on the Shelf. It’s a magical little tradition that gets kids ready for Christmas and apparently, controls their behavior. (It does sound magical, doesn’t it?!) For those who don’t want to incorporate Santa and his elves into their daily December, here’s a few fun alternatives to a Christmas countdown activity.

1. Christmas Mouse

Christmas Mouse from MiniMocha.blogspot.com // featured at TruthintheTinsel.com for an Elf on the Shelf alternative

source: minimocha.blogspot.com

Is this is the cutest little thing you’ve ever seen?! The Christmas Mouse travels the world and takes a mini-vacation at your house during December. Every day he leaves treasures from his travels.

2. The Christmas Angel

The Christmas Angel from yourchristmasangel.com // featured on TruthintheTinsel.com as an Elf on the Shelf alternative

source: yourchristmasangel.com

The Christmas Angel comes with a cute plush angel, a bag of gold dust and a storybook. The story explains how the angel came to Mary and told her she was going to have baby Jesus.  So, like the Elf on the Shelf, when your child wakes up every morning, they look for the angel who has written a message in the gold dust–“hug mom”, “make cookies”, “give a gift”. The idea is to give every day after reading the message from the angel.

3. Book Countdown

25 Jesus Centered Books to Celebrate Advent from VanderbiltWife.com // featured on TruthintheTinsel.com as an Elf on the Shelf alternative

source: vanderbiltwife.com

I’m a sucker for a Christmas book. The day after Christmas is my favorite day because Barnes and Noble puts all their Christmas books 50% off! So, grab 25 of your favorite Christmas books, wrap each one individually and every day of December unwrap one and read it together with your kids.

I love this because it gives your kids quality time, you are reading together and it makes for a surprise each day! My friend Jessie from Vanderbilt Wife has a great list of 25 Jesus-centric Christmas books for this tradition!

4. Soft Enough for a King

photo by SoftEnough.com

photo by SoftEnough.com

This is a little random-acts-of-kindness type of thing. You begin by reading the picture book about the Inn Keeper’s son who is collecting straw for the manger before Jesus is born. He discovers how helping others can bless the giver and the receiver. After reading the book, you set up the enclosed manger and adorable little plush baby Jesus (maybe you don’t set him up till Christmas, but he was so cute, we left him in there all of December)! Then, cut out the enclosed “straw” pieces and secretly write down when you noticed someone else in your family doing something kind. The idea is to fill up the manger so it’s soft for baby Jesus!

Soft Enough comes in a gorgeous book, the picture book has great illustrations and the manger and plush baby Jesus are cute enough to become a part of your Christmas decorations. It’s a really nice set!

(Note: I’m not always a fan of Christmas traditions/activities that have to do with a fictional character. So, if you do one of these kind of traditions—I’ve seen a lot of them around the internet this year, just make sure your kids understand this is just a fun idea, not a true story from the Bible!)

5. Mary & Joseph’s Trip to Bethlehem

Place Mary & Joseph far away from your nativity scene & have them travel to the manger during December. A fun alternative to the Elf on the Shelf // Nativity Scene handpainted by moms in Jalisco, Mexico // Truthinthetinsel.com

our nativity scene from Jalisco, Mexico

I’ve heard about this several places (mainly in fiction books!).  It’s such a simple idea that doesn’t require any crazy set-up or even a big purchase.

If you have a nativity scene, set it all up except for Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. Just hide Jesus away and then place Mary and Joseph far far away in another part of the house. Each morning, place Mary and Joseph a little closer to Bethlehem…er, your manger scene. By Christmas Eve, they can set up in the stable and on Christmas Day, place Jesus in the center!

My kids would love to search for Mary and Joseph every day! I think I’m going to do this in December!

6. Cradle to Cross Wreath

Cradle to Cross Wreath from adventtoascensionwreath.blogspot.com // featured on TruthintheTinsel.com as an alternative to Elf on the Shelf

source: adventtotheascensionwreath.blogspot.com

This is a meaningful, beautiful piece of art which doubles as a countdown activity. Each day, move the donkey and Mary figure closer to the center of the wreath adding Advent candles as you go. You can extend it (and use it again) during Lent as you get ready for Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross.

7. Light ‘Em Up

Light 'em Up from courtneydefeo.com // featured on TruthintheTinsel.com as an alternative to Elf on the Shelf

source: courtneydefeo.com

You’ve heard of Random Acts of Kindness during the holidays, right? Well, Courtney at Lil Light of Mine gives over 50 fun ideas, printables and more to light up December with kindness!

8. Shepherd’s Pouches

Shepherd's Pouches from blog.jamesandjuliepaquette.com // featured on TruthintheTinsel.com as an alternative to the Elf on the Shelf

source: blog.jamesandjuliepaquette.com

I super love this idea. Instead of stockings, hang up small, unadorned pouches. During December, when your children help someone, do chores, are kind, etc. place money in the pouches. On Christmas Eve, take the money from the pouches and use it to buy a gift from Compassion’s gift catalog or give it to someone in need.

This is cool because it gives the same feel as the elf watching your behavior, but with better motivation. Head over to Julie’s blog to read all her wording and ideas on how to implement this with your kids!

9. The Donkey in the Living Room

The Donkey in the Living Room ebook // featured on TruthintheTinsel.com as an alternative to Elf on the Shelf

source: amazon

This is a sweet little book about all the characters of a traditional nativity scene. For nine days, you giftwrap one of the manger scene figurines (whichever one you have at your house) and set it in a designated spot in your home. When your kids find it, they unwrap it and bring it to you so you can read that character’s story from the ebook. By the end of the story, you’ll have the entire manger scene set up and know a little more about each character! It’s a simple and fun idea–and born from the author’s own traditions as a child! {Oooh, and I just noticed there is a version that includes the nativity scene to match the book!)


Truth in the Tinsel: An Advent Experience for Little Hands // a hands-on Christmas tradition and alternative to Elf on the Shelf

photo by: seejamieblog.com

You knew I was gonna say that, right? It’s a wonderful and simple idea: read the Christmas story from the Bible, make an ornament to go along with the passage and talk about it with your kids. It includes printables, the words to say and simple tutorials. It doesn’t get much better than that! Get your own copy now!

buy tnt footer

(OK. I’m biased. But really, it’s fun.)

What’s your favorite fun Christmas countdown, activity or tradition for getting kids ready for Christmas?


Elf on the Shelf Alternatives

{elf graphics from zenware designs at mygraphico}


  1. Such great ideas! We’re going to be using the Christmas angel this year along with Truth in the Tinsel (again!). The link to #5 is here: http://cyndispivey.com/2011/12/02/my-christian-version-of-the-elf-on-the-shelf/

  2. We’re already planning to do the truth in the tinsel but I also LOVE the idea of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem!! That is so fun!

  3. Donna Schumann says:

    Hi Amanda. I am Jessie’s mom. These are great ideas. Wish we had thought of things like this when our children were little. So blessed that Jessie is using Truth in the Tinsel with her little ones. Thanks!

  4. I love slowing down at Christmas and really doing meaningful projects with the kids–love these ideas.

  5. I LOVE your ideas. We have done traditional activities, the advent wreath, the book countdown, and random acts of christmas kindness … but I love the Shepherd’s Pouches and how they are receiving due praise for kindness but honoring someone else with what they have been given. Thank you for these ideas!

  6. Love the Christmas pouch idea…but thinking that.. I will put a glass jar with ribbon on the mantel, so that it is a family project n not just kids or even comparison happening as to who does better. I look forward to doing Truth in the Tinsel for first time and for those moms who want an awesome Bible study on Advent for 4 weeks from Nov 26 to Dec 21, consider studying with http://www.goodmorninggirls.org (Good Morning Girls).

  7. I was planning on doing the shepard’s pouches this year (alongside Truth In Tinsel, of course) but then I found this book & think it will work better with my younger kids! Can’t wait to get started!!!


  8. Oh ya, & last year we did something that I think you could do with Truth In Tinsel if you like the fun of Elf on the Shelf but not the idea behind it. We decided to do a Jesse Tree Elf on the Shelf. I bought a little Christmas doll (an angel or elf or something similar in size to Elf on the Shelf) & had her pull crazy stunts just like EOTS. Each morning she had the Jesse Tree ornament attached to her. I told them that she came to share the love of Christ with them. Once they found her & the ornament, we talked about the ornament & went through the little Jesse Tree devo & then they hung the ornament on the tree. The kids LOVED this. I think you could have her holding the picture clue for TIT(wow, what initials!) & incorporate both aspects just not have her “watching over them” or anything for behavior modification……they just thought the things she did were hilarious & that’s the fun!!!

  9. Oh there are so many great ideas here! I love the What can we give the KING idea!!! We do a book countdown as well and Advent Action Cards where each morning they take a card of sock with an action on it, i.e. “take Christmas candy to a neighbor,” “drink hot chocolate,” “send a card to someone in the service.”

  10. Thank you so much for all of the suggestions! I think I will do the 25 books idea, and The Christmas Angel is a great alternative to Elf on the Shelf. I have actually almost bought Elf on the Shelf several times, but every time I felt in my spirit that I should not. I want my son to be more focused on Jesus! Thanks again for the suggestions!!!

  11. I love these ideas! Thanks for sharing them.

  12. I love this idea! I thought the elf on a shelf idea was cute but 1. I wanted my children to behave because that’s what they were taught to do and that’s what God wants them to do and not because a elf is watching over their every move (I mean really…what happens when you take away the elf after christmas???) Anways, number 2. is the obvious like you said…even though we haven’t told her kids the truth about Santa yet, I still don’t want it to be a super focused on him or his elves. I LOVE the idea of Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem! I always put up my nativity anyways, so that is a great thing to go along with it! I can’t wait to check out some of the other fun things, and I love “truth in the tinsel.” ;D

  13. We done Mary and Joseph’s trip when I was a child, my grandmother done q nativity scened big and beautiful! All kids look for Mary and Joseph and we LOVE when finally baby Jesus born! We done the same with the three Wise Men! This year we’ll do “La Verdad en el oropel” 🙂

  14. Growing up we always set up the nativity scene without Baby Jesus. On Christmas morning we would search to see who could find him and place him into the manger. We do this with our kids now and I still love it! Finding Jesus…isn’t that the whole point anyway 🙂

  15. I have never heard of the elf on shelf before…is it an American concept? Last year we did a Jesse tree which we will do again but I am loving a lot of these ideas too.

    • I guess it is American. Try searching for it on Pinterest–you’ll see more than you ever thought possible! 😉


  16. We’ve been using the Usborne Advent Nativity Book for probably 4 years. My 6 yr old loves it and my 2 yr old I think will really get into it this year. Each day there is a page to read in the nativity story and a character to take out and set up so that by the end the entire cast of characters (although it includes the 3 Kings which came later) are all there. It’s one of my favorite parts of sharing Advent with my family.

  17. Great ideas! My Grandma use to wrap the pieces of her Nativity up and I got to pick one each night and we’d open it by Christmas lights. It really made the Nativity Story come alive!

  18. Thanks so much for these ideas!! I linked to this page on my latest (very wordy!) blog post about the beginning of our family’s Advent journey this year. http://mommynificent.com/2012/11/30/our-advent-journey-begins-with-a-booklist/
    I can’t wait to get started!

  19. We have an Elf on the Shelf and my daughter loves her. But our elf doesn’t report naughty behavior or pull naughty stunts! Santa believes in the idea of grace at our house, and we acknowledge that without grace and forgiveness, we wouldn’t make anyone’s “nice list.” We also have a traditional advent wreath, and we have a family devotion every night that is focused on the theme for that week’s candle. Since my little girl is only three, we found a stuffed wreath with stuffed candles that attach to the wreath with Velcro. We have tried to find a balance in our home. To allow our daughter to participate in the secular things of the season, but not to forget our reason for Christmas, Jesus, our Savior!

  20. We don’t do the elf on a shelf, but by the light of the advent candles read each day during December from the book: Jotham’s Journey. It is excellent, and kept us all wanting to read further, every night.
    It is written by Arnie Ytreeide, Arnold Ytreeide. Jotham’ journey is divided into short chapters for each aday of Advent, giving families the opportunity to create a seasonal tradition of storytelling in their home. Ten-year-old Jotham’s adventure takes him across Israel as he searched for his family. Though he faces thieves, robbers, and kidnappers, Jotham also encounters friendly wise men, shepherds and innkeepers until at last he finds his way to his family–and to the Savior born in Bethlehem.

  21. Growing up we always had an Advent wreath and it was one of my favorite Christmas traditions, because every night after dinner we would light the appropriate candles on the wreath and turn off the other lights. Then we would go around the table starting with the youngest and pick a Christmas carol to sing.it was always my favorite part of the day, worshipping God with my family through song and taking a little extra time out of the busy days of the season to laugh and sing with your family. We did it every night, but you could easily do it once a week during Advent. I can’t wait to carry on this tradition with my kids.

  22. fun ideas! we do an angel, too, tied in with Truth in the Tinsel. it’s a new tradition we started last year & it was SO FUN – the kids looked for our angel, Mary, every morning:

  23. Brian Blackwell says:

    We do Elf on a Shelf every year. I find it lots of fun for our elf to get into all kinds of naughty behavior, such as barbecuing a Barbie Doll, rolling the bathroom and cutting off hair of a doll.

  24. Look… I know ya’ll want to keep Christ in Christmas and all, but you don’t /need/ an alternative to the Elf on the Shelf! It’s a creepy doll that frightens kids. Have some fun.
    I’ll bet you weirdos are lots of fun at parties.

    • Hahahahahaha!!! I had to laugh out loud at your comment. Exactly how is it “weird” to keep Christ in Christmas??!! Where do you think the word Christmas comes from 🙂 Why would you celebrate a birthday, especially the Lord’s birthday, without acknowledging the birthday boy??!!! Talk about weird!!

  25. Thanks so much for this list! Most traditions are bc someone said ‘hey let’s do this every year’ – I like the boldness of being different for a purpose. 🙂

  26. Just purchased Truth in Tinsel and cannot wait to use it. We going to incorporate it into our homeschool Bible lessons 🙂

  27. Love these ideas! And so looking forward to doing a simplified version of Truth in the Tinsel with my almost two year-old this year. 🙂 Thanks!

  28. Thanks for these ideas! We’re going to do a version of the Christmas mouse this year; he’s a missionary 11 months of the year and is staying in our house during December. While he’s here, he’ll teach us about people he’s visited, leaving us notes and maybe little souvenirs from different countries each night, so we can find them in the morning and pray for people in those places to know Jesus. My children know he’s pretend, but they’ve already had fun making him a little house in a box! I also recently posted 25 Christ-Centered Christmas Traditions as a printable pdf, which complement this list you’ve made! And, Truth in the Tinsel is listed among them, of course! 🙂

  29. Mrs. Ellis says:

    I love these ideas! I also found a great idea called My Angel and Me! Look it up I’m trying it this year!

  30. Thank you!! I am so happy to have all these great ideas during advent! I am not a fan of the elf concept. My daughter is 6 and feels the pressure from classmates every December. I sometimes feel bad, but have yet to give in. These ideas are filled with great purpose and meaning. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  31. We do something like the Christmas mouse but with a twist. His home comes right before christmas(a box decorated with doll furniture) we know he has arrive because he leaves my children notes each day. He teaches them about the true spirit Of Christmas and how to be more like how Jesus lived. It involves random acts of kindness but it is more than that

  32. michelle k says:

    We do the what God wants for Christmas and the advent wreath ideawith Mary on the donkey and Joseph walking beside her–I lay out 25 stones vs the wreath for Dec 1 through December 25 and I light a candle each night–I think I saw that from Deb at livingmontessorinow.com We also make a bed for Jesus–Anytime someone does something good is helpful/kind,etc we put a peice of hay down to make the bed. The kids like the making the bed for Jesus part best.

  33. Thanks for sharing. I’m curious about the advent wreath. I’d love to purchase one similar to the one in your post. Do you know how I could do that? Thanks in advance for you help.

  34. I was raised in the Ukrainian Orthodox church. Our Christmas is January 7. On Christmas Day we take the Wise Men from our nativity and move them to the other end of the house. They move every day, symbolizing the Wise Men’s trip to pay homage to the baby Jesus. Thèy end up at the creche on the 7th.

  35. I love all these ideas! I had been searching a few years ago for a Christ centered activity for my kids too. I finally implemented something of our own. Very much like the hide and seek game of Elf on The Shelf but something that taught my kids about the true meaning of Christmas! After a few years of doing it I decided to make it in to a retail product. This is my first year selling it….. “The Christmas Star From Afar.” Check it out! It is never too late to start.

  36. louis vuitton bags qc is a difficulty in china
    Cartier love bracelet unisex stainless steel http://cartierlovebraceletladywhitegold.tumblr.com/

  37. Cassandra says:

    oooh! Love this! I’ll be doing Truth in Tinsel with our Shepherd this year! I just found this new Christian elf on the Shelf alternative called The Shepherd’s Treasure (www.TheShepherdsTreasure.com) and it will be perfect with Truth in Tinsel!!! 🙂 It’s this little Shepherd doll that goes on a mission to find the true meaning of Christmas and then he finds Jesus on Christmas morning but every day of December we can do your Truth in Tinsel with our Shepherd! Love it! 🙂

  38. Great list! I’ve not heard of the Christmas mouse. I’ll look that one up. We are doing Melk the Christmas Monkey. http://bit.ly/2hTbp27

  39. Keona Snilly says:

    i will definitely be using some using some of these ideas for the upcoming christmas, thankyou so much for sharing bless you amanda

  40. I have checked your site and i have found some duplicate content, that’s why
    you don’t rank high in google, but there is a tool that can help
    you to create 100% unique articles, search for; Boorfe’s tips unlimited content

  41. Kelbellemama says:

    For those that like the Mary and Joseph one, another similar is Star From Afar.


    Personally, I’d rather stab myself in the eye each day with a dull pencil than do Elf on the Shelf. But I like these ones that keep with the story of Jesus’ birth, and the real reason for the season. It feels much better to me than adding in another false character.

  42. I have noticed you don’t monetize your website, don’t waste your traffic, you can earn extra bucks every month because you’ve got high quality content.
    If you want to know how to make extra bucks, search for: Mertiso’s
    tips best adsense alternative

Speak Your Mind