Thanks to simple holiday traditions that involve both kids and their parents, the weeks leading up to Christmas can be almost as enjoyable as the big day.
For the past few years, a small red-clad elf doll and his accompanying book -- known together as "Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition" -- have been bringing holiday fun to families all over the United States, as well as in Canada and the United Kingdom. The pixie-like elf -- with his infectious smile and twinkling eyes -- makes his appearance in homes sometime during December, thanks to his creator Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, who co-authored "Elf on the Shelf."
The elf gets its Christmas magic when the family gives him a name. Thereafter, from his perch somewhere in a room, the elf observes the children's behavior and reports to Santa each night. He reappears each morning in a new spot, ready for another day on the job.
Carol Aebersold had this tradition with her family growing up, and her elf, Fisbee, came with her when she began raising her own family (which included her twin daughters, co-author Bell and Christa Pitts, and her son, Brandon). "They all loved their elf so much growing up that they wanted to share him with other families," says Mollie Molumby, public relations manager for CCA and B, which produces the popular elf, book and related products.
And share them they did! "To date, we have sold 1.5 million elves and are expecting to increase that this year," Molumby says. "Each elf takes on the personality of the family when adopted." Elves and books are sold in thousands of stores nationwide. Additionally, the award-winning interactive North Pole website -- http://www.ElfOnTheShelf.com -- gives families a look into life at Santa's village.
"It was never really Christmas until Fisbee would show up at our house," says Carol Aebersold. "We have the fondest memories, and it has kept the Christmas magic alive in our hearts. Our elf was, and will always be, another member of the family."
One of the more longstanding traditions in homes all over the world is counting down the December days with an Advent calendar, says Bill Flynn, president of the Vermont Christmas Co.
Flynn and Andrew Kelly have been selling Advent calendars for 14 years. They started small but now offer both religious and whimsical Advent calendars in traditional paper form (some with chocolates), as well as in wooden and fabric form. "We're finding that folks who grew up with Advent calendars are passing that beloved tradition on to their children and grandchildren," Flynn says.
"We have learned that our customers are looking for some simplicity ... and that families are looking for holiday traditions to enjoy together," he says. "These are people who are trying to find something other than some electronic gizmo that they'll hand out on Dec. 25.
"The Advent calendar gives parents and kids an opportunity to spend some time together every day," he says. "Traditions don't have to take hours. It might just be five minutes, but they enjoy it."
Parents who are even more interested in keeping Christ in Christmas often decorate a Jesse tree. That's why last year, just over two dozen Midwestern women -- most of them young mothers -- worked together in the fall to make ornaments for Jesse trees to share with their families.
The Jesse tree represents Jesus' family tree, explains Molly Bruening, who came up with ornament sharing idea, posted it on Facebook and presented it to her Bible study group. "It takes Christians through that first long Advent," says Bruening. The name "Jesse tree" comes from Isaiah 11:1: "Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse and a branch from his roots will bear fruit."
Bruening and her group of friends volunteered to pick an ornament and made enough copies to share. In late November, Bruening hosted an ornament-exchange party and distributed a Scripture booklet to lead each family in decorating their Jesse tree.
Bruening says she is teaching her young family to keep Advent as a "time of waiting." "We put our Christmas tree up at the beginning of Advent and use it as our Jesse tree," she says. "When we add our Baby Jesus ornament on Christmas Eve, we light our tree and then swap our Jesse Tree ornaments for our Christmas ones."
There are many ways to make a Jesse tree, Bruening says. "Some families just draw pictures on paper, cut them out and hang them up as ornaments on a stick or small tree. Many families add their ornaments each night as they sit down for dinner -- or put up their ornaments before bed. Whichever way you choose to do your Jesse tree, it is sure to make for a great family tradition."