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Holidays,  Motherhood Resources

8 Amazing Elf on the Shelf Alternatives

There are several reasons I genuinely like the Elf on the Shelf tradition, but a glaring drawback is that it turns children’s affections away from the true meaning of Christmas. Are there Elf on the Shelf Alternatives that can spark imagination, creativity, and bring the light of Christmas? There is some incredible Elf on the Shelf Alternatives that your entire family will enjoy.

You will find 8 amazing Elf on the Shelf alternatives further down in this post, but the one I find most useful, edifying, and helpful to my family is The Shepherd’s Treasure. This tradition is fast becoming one of our favorites.

This post may contain affiliate links. You can read my full affiliate disclosure here.

Christmas Imagination Cultivated 

I love Elf on the Shelf. It sparks my own imagination and the imagination of countless children. All December my students are intensely sharing about their Elf on the Shelf experiences. I think whoever came up with the idea was brilliant.  The adventure children go on all through December to find the elf is stuff memories are made of. The excitement that is cultivated is universal. The chance for imagination to flow is remarkable.  Suddenly a quiet reserved child can excitedly tell me their elf name, when it arrived at their house,  and where it was located that morning. 

One aspect of Elf on the Shelf that surprised me was the community it created in my preschool classroom.  Most children have an Elf on the Shelf and the camaraderie it brings is delightful to observe. An entire class will suddenly stop what they are doing to listen to a fellow student’s elf story.  For preschoolers that is remarkable.

And the parents.  Jeepers creepers.  There are some ridiculously creative parents out there. From creating elaborate scenes with a child’s favorite toy to positioning it making cookies, I’ve heard and seen some pretty intense scenarios. It’s obvious many parents want to make lasting memories and go to great lengths to bring this imaginative creature to life.

I love Elf on the Shelf.

But I hate it too.

There has to be better Elf on the Shelf Alternatives. The good news is that there is!

Why don’t we have an Elf on the Shelf?

This realization occurred to me a few months ago when I started contemplating the Christmas traditions I wanted to do with our son. Now granted he is only 8 months old, so I was a little eager in my endeavor, but I’m also a huge Christmas buff. I greedily thought about all the fun places I could position the elf when our son was old enough to understand. I even contemplated buying one this year to try out, knowing that it would be mostly for my own enjoyment.

I knew I would receive plenty of side glances from my husband, who doesn’t quite understand my enthusiasm for the Christmas holiday. I thought about how someday my boy would come up with an adorable name for his elf, just like so many of my students have.

Obviously, I was in ‘first-time mommy’ fantasy land! 

Then suddenly the bottom fell out of my perfect illusion of this activity. The whole concept of Elf on the Shelf is designed for children to act good so they will be on the nice list and Santa will leave them presents on Christmas morning. The elf is essentially a guard of their choices. A motivator to do good. The child is accountable to that elf.

The shepherd overlooking a field

Our Affections at Christmas 

Now before I go on with my inherent issues with Elf on the Shelf, I’d like to direct any defensiveness to the above paragraphs. Remember, I also love Elf on the Shelf. There are many good aspects to this tradition. Please don’t take this post as an attack on your traditions. If you do Elf on the Shelf, I would love to hear your stories. If it is a joyful tradition for you, I am thrilled.

These contemplations are for those that want something different.  My husband would say, “Rachael, you think too deep.” He’s right in many ways. There are some traditions that can just be fun. But there are others that need deep contemplation. Traditions teach. I want our traditions to teach the right things.

I simply do not want my child’s affections and heart turned toward a fantasy character. I want his imagination to be kindled, his excitement to be fostered, and a love for doing good to come from correct motivation. This season is already materialistic enough, our family does not need a daily reminder of how materialistic we are.

In our home the Christmas holiday is about this:

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:9-12

Elf on the Shelf does not create affections for the ‘true meaning of Christmas’. It does not foster the obedience of parents because it is ‘right’. Instead, the child becomes accountable to the fictional character of the elf. I needed some alternatives to Elf on the Shelf.

Christian Elf on the Shelf Alternatives

So, I began to think of Christian Elf on the Shelf alternatives. Maybe I could create something that I could share with other moms. I began to think of elaborate alternatives, and suddenly it occurred to me, I am most likely not the first mom out there to take issue with what Elf on the Shelf is cultivating in a child’s heart. There have already been alternatives created.

Like any good modern-day momma, I turned to Pinterest. My feed was flooded with alternatives to the Elf on the Shelf tradition. The options are endless. Yet each one I clicked on still lacked the depth I was hoping for. I wanted something that would create excitement, passion, and discovery for the baby Jesus. Like Elf on the Shelf, I wanted my child to go on a journey, an adventure, a quest.

My favorite alternative to Elf on the Shelf is The Shepherd’s Treasure. Another honorable mention that I really have considered doing is the Kindness Elves. This is such a marvelous concept and the makers have put a lot of thought and effort into making it about gratitude and empathy.

Our first three Elf on the Shelf Alternatives will focus on those that have a Christian theme to them. The remaining are fun secular alternatives.

1. The Shepherd’s Treasure

And then I found it. “The Shepherds Treasure.” As far as alternatives to Elf on the Shelf go, this one is my favorite! The Shepherd’s Treasure is going to walk your child through the real story of Christmas and advent traditions that are worthwhile.

Now I’d like to go on record at this point and say, this is not a sponsored post by The Shepherd’s Treasure in any way. I received nothing from this company, I had to go buy their product just like anyone else. I simply love this idea and want to share this resource with other like-minded mommas.

Just like the elf on the shelf, there is an accompanying book that explains the shepherd’s journey. With beautiful illustrations and writing, it accounts for the night the shepherds were visited by angels who announced the arrival of Jesus, the Savior of the world. A shepherd accompanies the story and embarks on a quest on December 1st to discover the baby, Jesus. Like the elf, children will wake up each morning to discover the Shepherd in different places as he continues on his shepherd’s treasure hunt to find the Christ child.

Throughout the shepherd’s treasure hunt, he will stop and do various traditions, read certain parts of the Christmas story, and think about or do kind things for others. This is what sets The Shepherd’s Treasure above the rest. There are good and godly outcomes that this tradition can produce.

A Shepherd's Treasure book and doll

2. Shepherd on Search

This is another one you can add to the vault of well-thought-out Christian Elf on the Shelf Alternatives. Like The Shepherd’s Treasure, there is a shepherd that will be searching for Jesus. It has an accompanying book to walk you on the journey to find the Christ child throughout the month of December.

DaySpring also offers this adorable hanging advent calendar to help your children visually see the month going by.

3. Angel on Assignment

Move over Elf! This charming book written by Wanda Carter Roush can act as an Elf on the Shelf alternative or accompany a family that already has an Elf on the Shelf. The book encourages children to act as angels in disguise to their friends and family. The morals, story, and idea are absolutely stunning. Although the book does not come with an angel doll, it does show the child how to create one of their own.

Even if you are doing another Elf on the Shelf Alternative, you might want to snag a copy of Angel on Assignment, it’s just that good!

Other Elf on the Shelf Alternatives

There are some truly delightful alternatives to Elf on the Shelf. People are so creative. Here are a few other noteworthy ones. I personally love Shepherd’s Treasure, the book, cards, and missions align with my family’s values and heart during Christmas. However, I don’t pretend to think that this will work for every family.

Here are other Elf on the Shelf Alternatives that are not necessarily Christian-themed.

4. Kindness Elves

I would like to give a round of applause to the creators of Kindness Elves! Anna is from the UK and she designed these to be used in a variety of situations like schools and daycares. They can also be used at home to encourage your children to spread kindness in unusual and productive ways. You can order the dolls separately on Amazon.

5. North Pole Ninjas

This is another activity that can be used alongside the Elf on the Self or completely separately. The North Pole Ninja book comes with a cute storyline about all of Santa’s helpers and then 50 secret tasks for the reader to complete throughout the holiday season.

6. Hug and Hide Olaf

There are some children out there that just cannot stand not holding the Elf on the Shelf. If your child would like to hug their Elf on the Shelf Alternative, Olaf might just be the fun spin on this tradition that you need!

7. Mensch on the Bench

Introducing Mensch! He is designed to add some Funukkah to Hanukkah! Just the slogan alone is enough to bring a smile to your face! If you celebrate Hanukkah or just want to add something new to your holiday tradition, this fun book and accompanying doll could just be your ticket.

Your children will learn more about Judah Maccabee and the story surrounding Hanukkah.

8. Reindeer in Here

Our final Elf on the Shelf Alternative is called Reindeer in Here. Similar to the rest of these ideas, the tradition comes with a stuffed animal and an accompanying book to explain the tradition and storyline.

The fuzzy stuffed reindeer comes to visit every holiday season to teach children that they are each unique and that being different is normal.

Advent Card Printables

My favorite part of the Shephed’s Treasure tradition is the accompanying advent cards. These advent cards are incredibly well thought out. There are many ideas that they have on their website for completing these cards and extra editions for purchase in case you’d like new cards each year. They contain bible verses, quotes, stories, or action steps. It allows the child to not only discover the shepherd but become active participants in the Christmas story.

The cards not only contain bible verses, but some have specific activities to do that day. One day might challenge the child to make Christmas cookies and bring them to their neighbors. Another day a card might ask them to construct a handmade card to give to someone special in their life. Each card has a specific purpose to develop good virtue and a heart of giving.

These are in sharp contrast to the Elf on the Shelf activity, whose main purpose is to ‘get’ a child to be good by suggesting that their ‘goodness’ will produce more Christmas presents. Instead, in this Elf on the Shelf alternatives, the child is going through the story of Christmas and contemplating good things, and kind advent traditions. A Shepherds Treasure once again flies high above the other tradition in producing a godly outcome.

Advent Cards for Shepherd's Treasure

Which Elf on the Shelf Alternative is Best for Us?

There are too many Elf on the Shelf alternatives to waste any time on trying to fit a tradition that is not producing a godly outcome into your home. Leave the Elf on the Shelf for a Shepherd on the shelf or another one of these amazing alternatives. You won’t be sorry you made the decision as your child learns kindness instead of selfishness, affection for others instead of affection for self, love of Jesus instead of love of self.

There are a couple of things to consider when you are thinking about alternatives to Elf on the Shelf. What kind of time does your family have to commit to this tradition? Do you like your traditions simple, or a little more complicated? Do you want to have something to hide each day? What are the outcomes you want this tradition to produce?

If you like things simpler, maybe Hide and Hug Olaf is a simple alternative to Elf on the Shelf. If you are wanting to produce godly conversations with your children about Christmas, maybe The Shepherd’s Treasure is better!

Either shepherd on the self-activities are honestly good activities, but The Shepherd’s Treasure is much better written and biblically accurate. Some also point out the in the Shepherd on the Search, there seems to be an encouragement of disobedience.

  1. The Shepherd’s Treasure
  2. Shepherd on the Search
  3. Angel on Assignment
  4. Kindness Elves
  5. North Pole Ninjas
  6. Hide and Hug Olaf
  7. Mensch on the Bench
  8. Reindeer in Here
Elf on the Shelf Alternatives

A Heart Change 

There is no guarantee that Elf on the Shelf alternatives will create a heart change in a child. There is no guarantee that going on a quest with a stuffed shepherd will create a less materialistic child. There is no guarantee that their affections will be turned toward Christ as a result of a new Christmas tradition.

However, as I ponder Christmas traditions. I am reminded that creating a home culture requires us to dig deep with purpose and cover all things with unceasing prayer. Ultimately trusting in the sovereignty of God.

It is my hope as I move into this tradition that unlike a tradition ample with materialism, this tradition will create a tenderness toward the one thing that makes this holiday worth celebrating: Jesus.    

You can learn more about this product at The Shepherd’s Treasure.

Other Christmas Traditions and Activities from Healing Home

60 Stocking Stuffers Under $10 

That’s Not my Reindeer Christmas Craft 

1,2,3…Bake: Creating a Kid’s Recipe 

Christmas Ornament’s You can Do With Your Baby 

2 Comments

  • Diane K Sorenson

    Thank you so much for your wonderful blog posts which bring us to think about a home that brings healing in every area and glorify’s our Lord. As I think of family traditions we had when the girls were growing up I think of so many good ones. Our advent calendar wasn’t just pockets with “goodies and treasures”, but held many “doing for others to bless Jesus” ideas as well. I think my favorite memory tradition only lasted a few years. We read it in a devotional and the girls really wanted to do it. We put an empty “manger” under the tree, with a bowl of hay near it and then drew names within the family. For the entire month we had to do special things each day for our secret “name” drawn. (make their bed, etc) Each time we did something for our special “someone” we put a piece of hay in the manger. By Christmas Jesus had a “soft manger” to lay His head and we all had realized how much fun we had doing special things for each other. I have many other great memories but that is a couple. Hoping all have a blessed Christmas celebrating our Saviors birth.

    • RachaelBelle

      I recently saw at a store an actual manger hay activity. It came in a box in a manger and all the hay to do special things for those in your life. I wish I could remember what store it was located in! Such a fun idea!

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