Alternative Christmas Traditions

It’s that time of year when kids start asking for things.

Put it on your list, is my quick reply, knowing impulses will give way to priorities as Christmas gets closer.

I can’t put this on a list, our 10 year-old says. By the time Christmas comes there’d be no point.

I grimace, and she tries an alternative angle.

Can we start a new Christmas tradition… maybe get an Elf for the Shelf? She gives me that award worthy smile.

We’re in a new city, in a new house, our family pared down to just three now. A new tradition sounds like something that might melt my grimace.

A new friend was just over asking Arielle if we had an elf, then telling her about the fun they have with the all seeing, no touching toy that reports to Santa. I vaguely remember some version of this discussion from year’s past, but the particulars, why this elf makes me uncomfortable, I forget. We look up the elf, not on Amazon or Target, not to buy, but just to to consider- what is he really about? I’ve seen the funny pictures friends and cousins post on social media. There is some allure, but it also looks like a whole lot more to do each day. Still, I don’t want to be seen as the grimacing grinch, in addition to being the oldest mother of any of her friends, something she deals with quite graciously.

We find this fun short video, Elf et Michelf  This gives rise to a deeper conversation about being good because you’re being watched, and the idea of performance, the act of doing things because someone is watching. Its a thoughtful discussion for a 10 year old, that mostly bypasses my regular rants on marketing and consumerism, and my desire not to fill our home with more stuff. Beyond that, there is something about the elf that makes me wary (without judgement- if you have an elf and love it, by all means enjoy).

felt scraps for elf cat suit
design for Cat on the Mat by 10 year old Arielle

What Arielle really loves is animals, mainly cats. After our discussion she digs through her pile of stuffed animals and picks out a cat named Gingersnap, and contemplates dressing it like an alternative elf. Then we come up with a game using speech bubbles and fun things for the cat to say. We’ll take turns hiding Gingersnap in plain sight where the others will look for her. We’ll share this new responsibility so no one will cave under added pressure this holiday season. Arielle starts making some drawings and we go searching for red and green felt in our sewing scrap box so that she can make the simple outfit she’s designed. Thanks, she says, this is going to be way more fun than that elf.

sewing up new Christmas traditions
Arielle sews her design for Cat on the Mat using felt, needle, and thread


Gingersnap, who hasn’t seen much action in awhile has now risen to the top of the stuffed animal pile and is smiling rather fiendishly as she listens to us put the dead-end pin in the elf. The good news is cats are better at napping than watching our every move, and their laissez faire agenda would never include reporting to anybody.

final Cat elf is ready to pin the Elf to the shelf, a new Christmas tradition
Cat on the Mat is finished, with attitude: Pin that Elf to the Shelf!





Even better, I don’t have to make make an order on Amazon or a trip to Target. We’ve got everything we need, including a thoughtful, thankful child.


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