Getting the Whole Family in on the “Elf on the Shelf” Fun

December 19, 2013 9:00 am - Published by The Photographer Within - 13 Comments
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A few days ago we shared a story about an ornament tradition. Today Jessica Holden is here to tell us about how her family all participates in the “Elf on the Shelf” fun.


Our Take on the Elf on the Shelf Tradition
by Jessica Holden

 Our family has a lot of traditions every Christmas. We get a new ornament for our daughter every year that she will take with her one day to put on her own tree. We bake and decorate Christmas cookies for friends and family that we like to think would please Martha herself (my family has been doing this for generations!). I take the same image of my daughter in the same Santa hat beside the same window in front of the Christmas tree for our cards every year. We have a gingerbread house decorating evening with another family; the girls have been dear friends and we’ve been doing this since preschool. But in 2011, I decided we needed another tradition: We had to get in on the Elf on the Shelf craze.

But in our house, we approach this tradition is a little differently. We understand that the point of the Elf is that she (we named ours Holly) reports to Santa each night on how the kids behaved that day, but Holly also is an elf, and as such, she gets into more than her fair share of trouble when no one is watching. She is DEFINITELY a mischievous little thing!

In our house, the youngest (and in fact, only) child was 12 the year we began; Emily “got” the whole elf thing right from the start. So we put a little different twist on it for our purposes! Each of us (sometimes individually; sometimes in pairs) “helps” Holly to do her mischief, and we surprise each other. We don’t have a set schedule or any rules on who helps Holly or when; we just take turns surprising each other with Holly’s antics. In the morning Emily and I might find that Tom helped Holly, or Emily might find Holly amidst her craziness when she gets home from school one day. All three of us absolutely love it!

Emily tends to go all out with Holly, coming up with elaborate set-ups for her little elf to have fun with. For example, last year Holly (with Emily’s help, with a smidge of input from her daddy) set up a FB page so that I’d get a friend request from her while catching up on my emails the next morning. (And Emily is her mama’s daughter, too—she’s great at coming up with Holly ideas that will photograph well ;-).)

With Emily’s help Holly also “borrowed” my credit cards, and I woke up one morning to find her shopping online:

And Emily once helped Holly do a spoof on my favorite Old Spice ad:


She made a mess of the kitchen to make dinner for her friends:

And she took more than her fair share of naps:

My husband goes even grander. (Tom’s antics tend to be less photogenic—and on occasion, unfit for public viewing!—but hilariously fun nonetheless, so we forgive him!) In fact it was Tom’s very first Elf trick that made me create a new family rule that whoever “helps” Holly, also helps Holly clean up. For example, one day while I was out, Holly took our shoes out of all of our closets and spread them out on the kitchen floor (excuse the ugly kitchen—we are finally remodeling this year!):

Another time she held a concert for all the stuffed animals in the entire house (one of the animals isn’t stuffed—check out Rory, our bird!):

And once Holly even wrapped all of the doors in the house, so we had to break through to come out of our bedrooms and enter the kitchen in the morning!

My own adventures with Holly tend to revolve around what I can best tell a story of within the four sides of an image. With my help, she had a girl’s night at the spa:

She practiced her yoga:

She has hung from tire swings dangling off the chandelier and ziplined down the Christmas tree:

Occasionally she gets tired and just needs a nice glass of wine:

She even TPd our tree once:

And made paper snowflakes in the window for Emily:

Holly has also occasionally been known to help with dinner, complete with vegetables her own size:

In our family, the Elf isn’t just for the kids. In fact, I’d have a tough time deciding which of us loves our Holly tradition the most! Our friends all try to help us come up with ideas, and Holly has become one of our favorite aspects of the days leading up to Christmas. I find myself already looking forward to one day having grandbabies and continuing the tradition with them, only then, with the added magic of having Holly reporting back to Santa each night!


A native of the San Francisco Bay Area she calls home, Jessica Holden is a photographer, freelance book editor, and mom with an eye for capturing the everyday moments and ordinary things that make life extraordinary. As a little girl she was mesmerized by watching her grandfather create masterful charcoal renderings of sun-streamed redwood groves; since she can barely sketch stick figures, she tries to achieve that same radiance with her camera. In her ideal world, she’d shop at Anthropologie, explore the backroads of Italy, and sip cappuccino out of porcelain cups in European cafés. In this one, she shops at Target, visits castles in Disneyland, and settles for cappuccinos in paper cups at Starbucks. And she wouldn’t change a thing!

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