Have you been caught up in the elf craze? Classrooms and bedrooms have cute little elves popping up all over the place. Or maybe he’s sitting in the fridge hoeing into the cheese. The delight on a kid’s face when they discover their elf has moved and is now spread-eagled on the floor holding headphones to his ears, is just magical. Has the elf been back to report to Santa about whether they have been ‘naughty or nice’?

This idea of the elf-on-the-shelf was started relatively recently in the US. Elves traditionally were quite mythical, pale creatures. They eventually evolved into little characters dressed in red and/or green with pointy ears and a pointy hat. Living in the North Pole with Santa, they help make and pack the toys to be delivered to children around the world, and help care for the reindeer.

It’s this concept of helping, making, giving and caring that I like to focus on and if the elves can help, that’s a bonus. Elves are known as helpers. I’m sure they like to report to Father Christmas that the kids in their house or classroom have been kind to those around them. How could we go out of our way to make someone else feel good or happier? Helping for the sake of helping can help the helper be happy too. The story of The Elves and the Shoemaker highlights the concept of paying it forward or karma.

Christmas capers

There are so many activities that children can engage in during the lead up to Christmas. If the key is that the result or product is helpful or kind to someone else, not just for personal pleasure, then I think it’s a winner: keeping it simple, inexpensive with a focus on working together for someone else.

The elf can get involved. He can just sit and watch or be there in the morning with a selection of ingredients or craft equipment and a note for how to make something. Maybe he is found in the morning sitting on a stack of dusty chairs needed for the Christmas party and a note asking for help to clean them up. The story of The Littlest Elf emphasises that everyone can help in some way.

If you look online you will find hundreds of suggestions for Christmas activities. Be wary of the commercial draw within these - particularly if the children are helping you search! I like the creative activities where children are making something for someone else: cooking and crafts. Finding things that allow the children to make or bake something they can then package and give to family members has always been a favourite of mine.

Creations in the kitchen with kids

# Reindeer biscuits:

- Arrowroot biscuit, Nutella spread, Pretzel or Tiny Teddy antlers, Smartie eyes and a Strawberries & Cream lolly for the nose.
- These can be packaged in cellophane bags and tied with red ribbon to give to family members, perhaps the young cousins.

# Coconut Balls:

- As a kid I loved eating condensed milk straight from the tin!
- This is the recipe I use now.
- These can also be packaged in the cellophane bags and given to the more adult members of the family.

# Ice cream Cake:

- Line a domed bowl with film wrap. Melt ice cream enough to combine with treats like rocky road, glazed cherries or choc chips. Then freeze.
- Using green and red additions will give it more of a Christmas 'flavour'.
- Can be done in layers freezing each before starting the next.

# Grinch on a stick:

- Use skewers with a green grape for the head, a slice of banana (or a slice of white marshmallow) for the brim of the hat, and a strawberry with the stem cut off for the hat.
- These are a great way for kids to help prepare for Christmas lunch.
- They are also a possibility for the classroom: much healthy option!

Christmas cards from kids

Making greeting cards to hand out at an old folks home or nursing home can be greatly appreciated. Giving Christmas cards is not as common as it used to be but our elderly often still send cards with handwritten letters to each other. So children can decorate the covers of cards they make - adding glitter creates a sparkle! A collection of these can be given to grandparents. They then write their Christmas messages and letters inside to post to their friends. There are many ideas and lessons in Artventure of Christmas pictures that could be drawn on the front cover of these cards, like the Nutcracker or the Reindeer. Just search for ‘Christmas’.

Giving gifts

The tradition of giving each other presents, and of Santa delivering even more toys, has led to some children having unrealistic expectations. I recently read this suggestion of four gifts: How to make your family happy with less. Basically the focus is on something they want, need, wear and read. I also liked this article: Why parents not Santa should give the expensive toys.

The point here is the giving, not the receiving. If children can learn to think of what others might like or need then this is in the spirit of Christmas. The natural follow up is to feel and share the gratitude when a gift is received. The elf can be mischievous but basically he, or she, is a good role model: helping and caring.

Christmas means different things to different people. To me, the sense of wonder and delight experienced by children at this time is special. By helping them be a part of the making, the giving and the caring, hopefully these magical moments can be shared with family and friends. If a little elf encourages these moments, all the better.

Merry Christmas!

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