Elf on the Shelf

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"Mama, when's Elfie coming back?" Grace, 6, asks me excitedly as we pass a display of Christmas candy at the grocery store.

"He'll be here any day now," I assure her. I smile as I note her longing gaze at the tempting confections. Grace has a big sweet tooth, so seeing her exercise rare restraint in the candy department can only be described as a little bit of Christmas magic.

Who, with the mere mention of his name, can inspire such self-control? A Christmas elf, of course.

The Elf on the Shelf (www.elfontheshelf.com) joined our family about two years ago when a girlfriend gave him to us as a gift. A charming, vintage-style elf doll — replete with pointy shoes, ears, and hat — he came with an illustrated book that explained the tradition and the rules of his engagement, including the idea that by naming our elf, we had officially "adopted" him.

Elfie, as ours came to be called, is an adorable little spy for Santa Claus. He arrives around Thanksgiving to keep an eye on us during the holidays, and keep Santa informed as to whether we've been naughty or nice.

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.

This sweet tradition is one of our favorites — it's fun, engaging, and an easy way to help younger children focus on kindness, self-control, and generosity.

Elfie may work for Santa, but Mama gets the benefits! When we wake up Christmas morning and find that Elfie has returned to the North Pole via Santa's sled on Christmas Eve, I don't know who's sadder, the kids or me.

What keeps kids on their best behavior during the holidays? Click the comments link below to find and share solutions.

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