The surprise and excitement on her little face the morning she hopped down the stairs, to find a full breakfast picnic laid out on the floor with instructions on how to finish making the pancakes and dust them with magic elfie snow (icing sugar to you and I) is something I will never forget.
At the time (2012), it was our first Christmas in California and several of our friends and neighbours locally had just started this tradition too. I immediately loved the idea and even bought a few elves to send to friends back in the UK and over in Australia and New Zealand - they were completely unaware of the concept but equally enamoured with their new festive lodgers. Now, three years on, it seems to have reached far around the world and many families have taken on an elf tradition to kick off the festive season in their own houses, whether it be the classic, mass market Elf on the Shelf, one of the lesser known alternatives such as a Kindness Elf, or even an elf of their own invention.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, the elf arrives in your house in the lead up to Christmas - being an American tradition, the day after Thanksgiving is the most typical time for your elf to arrive, although many in the UK choose for them to arrive on the first day of advent. The first time he/she comes, the child(ren) need to give their elf a name - ours was named Lanta, our friends with twins got their elf the same year as us, and their children each chose one name; and so Plinky Jack was born! Each night, the elf returns to the North Pole and in the morning he or she will be in a new place in the house for the children to find. Morning elf hunting proved to be fantastically exciting, and a great motivator to get out of bed and ready for the day! Not to mention how attached we have become to our elf!
Some people like to use their elf to remind their children how they are expected to behave (the elf is watching and reports back to Santa on whether the children are naughty or nice), some like to encourage their children to think of others through ideas for random acts of kindness brought with each day. Some elves just move quietly around the house, whereas others are mischievous and cause all sorts of trouble and devastation - ours has spent some days hanging out simply on a curtain pole or a shelf, whereas other times we have woken to miniature scale bedlam that is sure to cause a few giggles.
Personally, I really love the fun and magic of it all - and our elf will be delivering a mixture of Christmas treats and random acts of kindness, all topped off with our family tradition of a Christmas Eve box containing festive pyjamas, a movie and some tasty treats along with a handwritten note and an invitation to pick her up and give her a hug goodbye before she returns to the North Pole until the following year.
Our first year made for easy elfing - we were new to it with a ton of ideas and just a 3 year old mind to amuse, so Lanta mainly hung out in fairly obvious spots around the house and the hunting was never too tricky. The following year, in spite of my best intentions, with a new baby in the house our elf skills were lacking and there were more than a couple of mornings where we frantically scrambled to get to the elf before she was found in her same position from the day before! Last year, we really stepped up our game - in a different house with a new set of hiding places and the help of nieces with some great ideas, not too mention a little festive fizz, Lanta got up to all sorts of mischief - she even wrapped the entire downstairs bathroom in Christmas wrapping paper!
So now it's nearly time for our elf to arrive again. I've had a couple of new ideas that i can't wait to try and I'm quite excited at the anticipation of their little faces lighting up every morning! I know that my littlest love, now aged 2, will have a better idea of what is going on this year and will likely get involved in the daily elf hunt. And I'm feeling a bit (ok slightly...) better prepared - I joined some friends a couple of weeks ago for a crafting evening where we made homemade advent calendars - I made mine in individual little bags so that our elf can deliver one to the children each morning. We're spending Christmas at home this year, so the biggest elfing upheaval we will have to deal with is a single night away in a hotel on the run up to Christmas. I think I might set a reminder on my phone every evening to avoid any crazy last minute morning panics and my inner geek uber-organised alter ego is desperate to make a spreadsheet of elfy ideas, but in reality in spite of the best intentions that probably won't happen.
How about you? Do you have an elfing tradition in your house? If you're collecting ideas for elfy activities on the run up to Christmas my Pinterest board has been three years in the making and has plenty of inspiring pins. I'll be posting the adventures of #Lantatheelf on my instagram account so don't forget to follow along to see what she's up to!