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9 Elf on the Shelf hacks to get you through to Christmas


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Calah Alexander - published on 12/16/19

If this tradition has somehow found its way into your Advent and you're fresh out of Elven mischief, I got you covered.

So … Elf on the Shelf. This is a thing I scoffed at for years, a thing I eschewed both privately and publicly, a thing I swore up and down would never touch my family’s magical Advent with its nasty, nasty consumerism.

Then it happened. I got tired. I know, this seems to be a pattern with me. But honestly, it’s kind of a pattern with all parents of multiple children. At a certain point, you just wake up weary. Not the kind of weariness that a nap or a good night’s sleep or even a good week’s sleep can fix, either — this is the bone-deep, impenetrable exhaustion that comes from trying to give your kids the absolute best upbringing you can think of.

But as Aristotle said, “Time crumbles things; everything grows old under the power of Time and is forgotten through the lapse of Time.” Add several more children into the mix, and you’ve got a lot of crumbling going on (and I’m not just talking about the cereal carpet on the pantry floor). For me, the pivotal moment of exhaustion erosion happened in 2018. I can’t even blame someone else for the arrival of the Elf into our Advent — it was all me. I was sitting a pharmacy, waiting on a prescription for Tamiflu, when I saw  Elf on the Shelf display.

Some context: the Tamiflu was for Lincoln, my then-6-year-old, who coincidentally had been captivated by Elves on Shelves for the past two years. As a chronic mother, I was 85% sure he was on death’s door before we went to the doctor, and the positive Influenza A diagnosis only confirmed my helpless panic. So I did what any exhausted, worried, and emotionally vulnerable mother would do: I bought the full Elf on the Shelf kit, complete with a storybook and birth certificate (no idea why that was included, but one doesn’t question Toy Makers in times of crisis).

Thus began my personal descent into Elf on the Shelf madness. If you’re in my shoes, past or present, let me share some wisdom I’ve learned over the past two years of haphazard Elf Advents … because y’all, it doesn’t have to be Pinterest-perfect to delight your kids. If anything, the less Pinterest-worthy your Elf’s nightly escapades are, the more your kids will be delighted by them. So without further ado, here are 9 Elf on the Shelf hacks to get you through the next 9 nights.

1Stuck the Landing Elf

If your children’s rooms have descended into chaos as their Christmas frenzy has amped up, this is the hack for you. Choose a strategic, high-traffic location — bottom of the stairs, middle of the bathroom floor, amidst the shoes thrown randomly in the closet — and sprawl your Elf out in dramatic fashion. Make it look unnatural and possibly slightly macabre, depending on the severity of the bedroom chaos. Add a note from the Elf detailing his midnight tumble when he was simply trying to make sure the kids were all sleeping peacefully, and voila. You’ll get an instant Elf-inspired cleaning frenzy devoid of the usual prodding and subsequent complaining.

2 & 3Zipline Elf

This one takes a little bit of a time investment initially, but it makes the next few days a breeze. Just use some basic kitchen string to create a zipline from ceiling fan to ceiling fan (after you make sure said fans are turned off by their chains to avoid any Elven tragedies) and move the elf along it for several nights. Your kids will be delighted to see the Elf’s zipline antics and you’ll be delighted by the ease of execution. Done and done. 

4 & 5Adventure Elf

If string and ceiling fans aren’t your thing, turn your Elf into an adventure seeker. Perch him on the top of the fridge, peeking over the highest bookshelf, dangling from the star on top of your Christmas tree … heck, if you’ve got a really tall ladder and the weather is clear, you can even perch him on the front eave of your house! Remember, there doesn’t have to be an explanation for the Elf’s location — the mystery is part of the fun.

6Convalescent Elf

Of course, all those risks are bound to catch up with your Elf — both as a natural consequence and as a cautionary tale. Wrap your Elf’s leg up in some white duct tape marked with sharpie scribbles and leave an Elven note for the kids explaining that your Elf broke his leg in the course of his adventures off the Shelf. If you’re really desperate, you can add a doctor’s note about mandatory bed rest for the next 3 days and get yourself right out of Elf duty till his magical Christmas disappearing act.

7Cold & Flu Season Elf

Since the flu seems to be particularly virulent this year (based on the 17 kids from my daughter’s junior high who were out with confirmed flu cases yesterday alone), here’s a good way to reinforce hygiene habits: give your Elf a paper-towel doctor’s mask and have him poised over a tiny bowl of water with the soap standing nearby. This one is great if you’ve got kids who struggle with the whole “cover your mouth with your elbow when you sneeze/cough” and “wash your hands often — WITH SOAP!” things. What better example than your friendly family Elf?

8Chocolate Coma Elf

This was one of my personal favorites last year, when the holidays overwhelmed me and I broke into the Advent calendar chocolate. Rather than run to the store to replace the chocolate the next morning, I just blamed the Elf. No, seriously — I laid him face-up amidst the pile of Hershey’s kisses wrappers, smeared a little chocolate on his face, and made sure the doors to the Advent calendar were all hanging open for dramatic effect. I can’t say where this falls on the scale of morality in regards to lying, but I can say that my kids were far more amused than annoyed. Plus, I saved them from excess sugar so … win/win?

9Unwrapping Elf

Of course, I saved the best (and most practical) for last. This is your salvation when you hit the inevitable Christmas Eve present-wrapping wall — instead of staring blankly at the unwrapped pile of presents for a solid half-hour, just throw some random strips of wrapping paper on them, pile them haphazardly a little bit apart from the wrapped gifts, and position your Elf in the center of a present-unwrapping melee. Extra points for scotch tape hanging from his little Elf hands! Don’t worry too much about your kids being upset that he’s unwrapped their presents … unless those are all presents for just one of the kids, they’ll get a kick out of figuring out which present was supposed to go to whom. Extra bonus: if your kids decide their sister’s gift was meant for them and vice versa, you can just stay quiet and rest in the knowledge that you’ve accidentally avoided a contentious Christmas-day gift conflict.

High-five, you made it! Time to throw that Elf up on his Shelf till next year. Hallelujah!


Read more:
How Advent can teach you to be a better parent


Read more:
Let these 4 words guide you through Advent

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