Why I Don’t Do Elf On The Shelf And What I Do Instead
Generally, I’m not good at doing things that are “extra.” With work and kids and everything in between, I find I have time for things that are low maintenance and simple. This is one of the main reasons I don’t do Elf on the Shelf. There’s no way our elf would be able to do extravagant pranks, and it is very likely he wouldn’t move from his shelf from the first day of December until Christmas.
Additionally, I don’t love the idea that the elf watches you and tells Santa if you are being good or bad. It just doesn’t fit well into the way I parent and the conversations I have with my children about their behavior or about Christmas.
Because of these two things, I’ve always known that Elf on the Shelf wasn’t the Christmas activity my family needed, but I couldn’t find something that quite fit, until last Christmas I stumbled upon the Giving Manger.
The Giving Manger is a kit sold at religious stores, but I’ve seen it in many other stores, and it can be ordered online. It comes with a wooden manger, a wooden baby Jesus, a pack of straw, and a book to read to your children to explain what to do. I’ve also seen people make something similar using a manger or box, a small baby, and yarn.
In the days leading up to Christmas, your children lay a piece of straw in the manger each time they do something kind. The straw is placed in the manger and stays there until it is time to place Jesus in the manger, and on Christmas morning, they have created a nice bed for Him by being kind to others, sacrificing for members of their family, or choosing to do good.
Here’s why I love this idea:
I set the manger up on December 1st and then throughout the month my kids place straw that I give them into it. On Christmas morning, we gather together and place Jesus in his nice little bed that they’ve created. It doesn’t require a lot, but still is cute and fun for us all.
It’s not just me.
Anyone can recognize that a child has done something good and kind and have them place straw in the manger. Whether it is their parents, a visiting family member or friend, or one of their siblings. I love this part, because the success of the activity does not solely rest on my husband and me, and it encourages accountability. My oldest gets so excited when he gets to tell his little sister how kind she was or that she made a sacrifice and that she can put straw in the manger.
In terms of behavior, it is a positive reinforcement. You can only gain straw. You can’t lose it. So if you choose to do something good and kind, you are able to place straw in the manger. But in moments where you don’t choose to do something good and kind, straw is not removed from the manger, you just don’t get to add any straw because of the choice that you made. Personally, I prefer this over the idea that Santa is watching and if you are bad you don’t get presents. With the manger, your choices affect a small wooden baby Jesus and the bed He will have on Christmas morning. They affect someone outside of yourself. There’s the consequence of hurting or helping someone depending on your choices, without it being too real. It’s not about the kids and their presents, it’s about another person. And I feel like that is such a realistic way to talk about behavior and choices with our kids.
Focusing on Christ
During the Christmas season, it can be really easy to allow our attention to be drawn away from Jesus. It is so easy to focus on presents and whose house we’re going to when and all the things that come with family traditions. It can be hard to stop, pause, and remember why we celebrate Christmas. The Giving Manger gives us a reason to reflect, even just for a moment on Christmas morning, on the birth of Christ. As a mom, I try to draw my children back to Jesus in all circumstances, and that can be really hard. Having something tangible that we can do together as a family before we dive into the presents helps me to talk to them about the importance of Jesus’ birth and why we celebrate Christmas.