A Fun Alternative to ‘Elf on the Shelf’

Contrary to popular sentiments, Christmas isn’t for children. Nor should the focus be all about kids. 

Christmas is actually an annual opportunity to introduce your family to more and more understanding about the Babe in the manger, without whom this holiday would not exist.  

Games of hide and seek are lots of fun so here’s a way to continue this popular holiday tradition while teaching your kids about Jesus. It’s called Follow the Star. In this post are simple instructions, a story to read as you begin this game, questions to ask your kids if you want and have time, and ideas for hiding places. There is also an opportunity to enter a giveaway for a free set of His Eternal Names ornaments below. 


  1. Order our 7-inch star ornaments, each printed with a different name of Jesus. His Eternal Names.
  2. Explain the rules of the game; you decide how often, what rewards, etc.
  3. Read the story below one night before beginning to help your children imagine the journey and discovery of the Wise Men who followed the star to baby Jesus. (I’m going to print the story, cut it up into short portions and paste into a small book, and send it to some of my children along with the stars to do this with their kids. I’ll get photos of them doing it and share them later!)
  4. Depending on your family size or wishes, hide one, two or all three stars.
  5. When found, read Jesus’ name and the verse where it is found in the Bible. Have your children repeat the name so they learn it. Talk about what the name means if you’d like or ask your child to share what he or she thinks. If you desire, read the corresponding story in the small book that comes with the star ornaments.
  6. At the end of the specified number of days (a week, every Monday or all month) or on Christmas Eve let your children hang the stars on your tree or hang one over your manger scene to remember the star led the wise men to Jesus. Remind your children of all ages that wise men, and women, still seek Him today.

A Story About the Wise Men

Have you ever wondered why the wise men, also called magi, were searching the stars for signs of a coming king? 

Why stars? Why not maps?

Did they know who they were looking for? 

Did they have a name and address?

The Bible says these magi arrived in Jerusalem and were asking those in the city, “where is He who has been born King of the Jews? 

How did they know a king would be born to the Jews?

Deep in the pages of the Old Testament the answers to these questions are hidden in the story of a teenage boy. As a young teen his life was changed forever when an army captured his city and took him and many of his friends away from their parents and families. 

The Babylonian army had orders from their king to bring only the best and brightest, so all the children of the royal families and nobles were kidnapped because they’d been educated. As they raided the palaces they also collected gold, silver and many valuables from the temple of God. 

Then began the long march on foot from their homes in Israel all the way to Babylon, hundreds of miles away. There they lived for 70 long years in servitude to a powerful king.

You probably have heard the names of four of these boys; Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. 

We know from the stories Daniel wrote in his book that he and many of his friends stood strong for God even while serving the kings of Babylon, who did not know God. Remember the lion’s den, the fiery furnace, the visions of statues and the handwriting on the wall? Daniel’s life story would make an amazing superhero movie! But after 12 short chapters, his story ends.  

But was that really the end?

Here is how the story might have continued.

As the wise men, with whom Daniel worked in the king’s palace, watched him interpret the king’s dreams, predict the future, and remain unscratched by a den full of lions, I imagine some of those men whispered, “Hey Daniel, can we talk about this God of yours, privately after hours?” Or maybe other wise men talked together about this God after watching Shadrach, Meshach, or Abednego survive the fiery furnace without even smelling like smoke.

Wouldn’t you have wanted to know about the Israelite’s God after watching all those miracles?

Maybe Daniel, his friends, and other unnamed Hebrew residents of Babylon shared their faith with their captors, their employers, and their neighbors. They were not afraid to stand up for God before the king so they probably answered the questions of others in the king’s castle and his court. 

For centuries, the great hope of the Jewish people was the coming Messiah who would deliver them from bondage. This faith kept thousands of Jewish exiles hopeful even while enduring the 70 long years of captivity in Babylon.

God had given hints of His precious gift, the coming king, throughout the Old Testament writings. And many of His people knew of these hints. One clue from God was a metaphor used to describe the coming Messiah; a star. A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Numbers 24:17).

And Daniel, near the end of his life at 85, wrote these words, “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above, and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever,” (Daniel 12:3).

Centuries after Daniel lived, a team of wise, learned men who had studied astronomy and natural science for years and who lived in the East where Babylon was, discovered a star in the sky unlike any they had ever seen.

Might those wise men have been descendants of the wise men in Babylon who Daniel undoubtedly influenced with his unwavering faith? Do you think they had a copy of the Hebrew Scriptures? Might they have read those Scriptures searching for clues about the coming Messiah they’d heard about in the stories of Daniel’s visions?

In their quest to understand the meaning of this new star and the truth they hoped it would reveal, these wise men made preparations for a long journey west. For many months they traveled, following this moving star. Have you ever seen a star that moved?

Arriving in Jerusalem, these wise men asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2).

Miraculously, “the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them, until it came and stood over where the Child was” (Matthew 2:9 KJV). The reward for the wise men who followed the star was great joy followed by worship. Would you have felt the same way too?

Will you be like the wise men and follow His star this year at Christmas? 

Questions to ask your children. 

I bet your kids will be interested in talking if you do this at bedtime! Mine always loved talking at bedtime. It was a delay tactic but use it to your advantage!

Teach your children to “follow the star” just as the wise men did. And talk, as often as you can during December, about the journey of the wise men, asking questions like:

  • What was hard about the journey?
  • Where did they sleep at night?
  • How long do you think it took?
  • Do you think only three men traveled?
  • How long were they gone?

Ideas for hiding the stars.

There are so many options around your home for great hiding places for the stars. A few of my favorites include: 

Hide a star on your kids’ toy shelf or bin.

Add a star to a bookshelf.

Hide a star somewhere on a kitchen counter or on the kitchen table.

You could hide one in the silverware drawer.

Hide one in the guest room or even under your child’s pillow.

The possibilities are endless! 



Now, we would love to hear from you! Please comment below and share with us one of your favorite family Christmas traditions and be entered into a drawing to receive a FREE set of the ornaments His Eternal Names! 


The Elf on the Shelf ® is a registered trademark of CCA & B, LLC. Copyright 2019

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69 thoughts on “A Fun Alternative to ‘Elf on the Shelf’”

  1. One year we read Luke 2:1-20 (The Christmas Story) at one meal every day in December. By December 25 our children had memorized the entire passage and us parents were very familiar with the Christmas Story. The following year we asked the children if they still remembered it. They could almost quote the entire passage without much help.

    We also do a birthday cake for Jesus every Christmas with our extended family. The youngest gets to light the first candle, then the next oldest, etc. up through all the children and cousins. We then sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and enjoy the cake.

    The past few years we have been eating a “Bethlehem Meal” on Christmas Eve or close to it. We eat foods that Jesus would have eaten like dates, humus, cheeses, yogurt, grapes, nuts, fish, pita bread and drink grape juice. We eat by candle light and read parts from an ABeka book about Jesus life as a child so we think about what it was like when Jesus was on earth in his culture, so he is a real individual. Sometimes we have read the Christmas story from the Bible.

  2. I love this idea. We are always looking for engaging ways to focus on Christ. This time of year our children are bombarded with ideas that lead them away from Christ.

    Ou r tradition is to surround our children with family around Christmas. We slow down and focus on the blessings of togetherness that God has allowed us. From Christmas Eve dinner to Dinner on Christmas, our children are with different generations of family.

  3. We have cinnamon rolls and read the Christmas story in the morning. The night before our family Christmas we have a shepherd’s meal and talk about the shepherd’s in the night Jesus was born.

  4. Thank you so much for sharing your Christ-filled alternatives that help to keep our family’s focus on Jesus during Christmas!! It is a great passion of mine to do my part in re-claiming the Christ based holidays for Him. One of the traditions that we do with our children incorporates the familiar Christmas countdown chain craft with 21 gifts from God. Each link has a word such as – Jesus, then the Bible verse reference (John 3:16) that we look up together as a family, so that the focus is on His presence and what He has given to us in Christ, more than the presents under the tree.

  5. I love this! I so want to do it! In the past we have set out the manger scene but without Jesus and then put the wisemen on the far side of the room. Each day they get closer and closer and then on Christmas Jesus appears in the manger. So fun to find creative ways to create longing and anticipation in their hearts.

  6. Christina Dzindzio

    Our tradition is opening one gift (from a relative) on Christmas Eve after church. We have the family together for Christmas dinner, and sitting listening to a movie or Christmas music by the tree.
    I love the idea of Follow the Star, the Eternal names of God, and plan to share the idea with my daughter for our grandchildren.

  7. Some of our traditions- We go to the local church that puts on a nativity drive through, and they also have an area with a choir singing actual CHRISTmas carols and hot chocolate. We watch our veggie tales St Nick DVD and Buck Denver’s What is Christmas DVD. We also watch Dr Rick Larson’s documentary about The Star of Bethlehem. This year I want to read the case for Christmas by Lee Strobel, and buy either the names of Christmas for Kids or What God wants for Christmas. We have other traditions but these are the ones we really look forward to on a cold evening.

  8. Just this fall we put our whole stack of Christmas card pictures from last year on the table. Each day we pray we for one family a day before each meal. Our kids love it and always ask, “Who are we praying for today?!”

  9. We have enjoyed making games like this a part of our yearly traditions. I enjoy spending time with my kiddos each day before Christmas. Not only is it good for them but it helps me to slow down and remember as well.

    I love this idea because it is new and will work with the ages of my children, we have outgrown some of our old favorites. Thank you for sharing!!

  10. Great idea!

    Our children made “shepherds” pouches when they were young. They hang over the stocking and to place focus on giving rather than receiving, the children put $ in the pouches, that they’ve earned for little jobs around the home, throughout December. On Christmas morning, we replaced their $ with gold chocolate coins.
    The children take their $ in an envelope to church missions. 💜

  11. Great idea! We will be doing this with our 2 year old and 4 year old.

    Something we just started doing this year is:

    I had a photo tree that has little ornament-picture-frames where you place family pictures and hang in the tree (think a “family tree”) well, we come from a large and growing family, so the 12 ornaments were never up-to-date, nor did they have everyone’s photo in them. So I decided to take the family pictures out and use the 12 tiny photo frames to house symbols that represent the 12 days of Christmas (yes, as in the song).

    One thing I didn’t know until last year, there is a legend behind the origin of this song. It actually has Christian roots. I recommend the book:
    “The 12 Days of Christmas” by Helen Haidle. We read this book, and as we read about each ‘day/gift’ of Christmas, our children get to find the matching ornament and hang it on the tree. This could be done all in one sitting or spread it out and limit it to one gift a day and actually read them on the 12 days of Christmas. If anyone wants to know more details on what we did, lemme know!

  12. My mom would always organize a “Favor Day” where we would all do favors and acts of service for each family member during the Christmas season! It was so fun to see my younger siblings take such joy, as Jesus did, in taking the lowest position and trying to bless their family members as much as possible!

  13. Thank you for this really creative idea!
    Our main tradition is to always be with some family, immediate and/or extended and read from Luke 2. It is a special time!

  14. Thank you for this really creative idea!
    Our main tradition is to always be with some family, immediate and/or extended and read from Luke 2. It is a special time!

  15. We have a “Jesus” stocking that hangs on the mantle alongside the family stockings. On Christmas Eve, we each write a note to Jesus, date it, and place in His stocking. We also read aloud some of the notes from years past. It is a faith builder to read our love notes to the Lord from past seasons and to remember His goodness and faithfulness. What a treasure, too, to read the notes of some in the family who are now in Heaven!!

  16. I love this idea. I think it will be a new tradition with our children. One of my favorite memories is singing Christmas songs with my mom as we drove around during the Christmas season. We loved Twila Tharp and Baby Mason’s Christmas albums. We listened to them on cassette tape in our mini van! I am brought back to that time whenever I hear songs from those albums.

  17. This is a wonderful idea! When our children were smaller, we used to use the Adore-naments which was always fun and it kept us centered on the true meaning of Christmas.

  18. During the first week of December, we bake dozens and dozens of cookies. Then, on Dec. 6, St. Nicholas Day, we go out after dark and secretly deliver boxes of cookies…leaving them on front porches with a note that explains St. Nicholas…and Jesus. We’ve been doing this for about 10 years, and all but one of our 6 kids are teenagers now, but they are still just as enthusiastic as they were when they were little. I think they’ll be doing it with our grandchildren some day!

  19. Our children are grown and two of them live far away so we don’t spend Christmas together anymore. We have done the paper chain with the Names of Jesus, we have the Adornament set, we had a Christmas Book that you opened a new page each day of Advent until it opened like a circle,hard to explain that one.
    I love your Ever Thine Home products. We have no grandchildren but love to share these items with families in our church.

  20. We made chocolate coated crackers. You put peanut butter between two ritz crackers, that was how I helped. Then you drop them into melted chocolate using forks to flip them over till fully covered. Next you take one fork to hold the cracker and gently shake off excess put them on trays lined with waxed paper and cool till chocolate is hardened and enjoy.

  21. We live in a different province than our kids grandparents. So, our current tradition is to drive back “home” to spend quality time with all the grandparents and cousins. This includes playing lots of games, skating and hanging out. We always go to a candlelight service on Christmas Eve and afterwards we gather together to read the Christmas account from Luke before we open gifts.

  22. My favorite Christmas tradition is singing Biblical Christmas carols as a family before opening gifts. As a child, and today, it drew my heart to remember the greatest gift first.

  23. My husband reads “The Grinch” at Christmas. But our version has a twist, my husband has written a bit into the story where the Grinch remembers hearing the real Christmas story with the gospel and the reason his heart grows is because he is saved! All our grands have loved it. He’s even read it at our church family Christmas party.

  24. One of my favorite traditions growing up was always going and cutting a fresh tree at a local tree farm and putting it up in the house and decorating it with all the many ornaments we’ve collected over the years. So many wonderful memories! My parents gave us our own ornaments every year so by the time we moved out, we could decorate our own tree! Now we continue the whole tree tradition with our own children. My parents also always made Jesus and the Nativity front and center in our Christmas traditions and decor, and have gifted us with our own Nativities so we can continue that also!

  25. When I was growing up one of my favorite traditions was baking fudge with my mom. We use to give it as gifts and it’s so good.

  26. We start decorating right after Thanksgiving! One of the first things we do is put out our Nativity sets – every room in the house has one!!!!

    This would be a great thing for the Lutheran school office where I work. It would be fun with our students!

  27. We read Prepare Him Room around our Advent wreath and light the candles each evening from Dec 1 til Christmas. Each night, after the reading, the kids hunt for a gold box that contains a sweet treat for each child. My husband makes up some sort of a silly rhyme each night as a clue to find where the box has been hidden. The kids take turns being the lead hunter for the box and the one who gets to blow out the candles after.

  28. This could not be more timely! Our tradition is that every year, a few weeks before Advent, I begin the search for the new Advent book that is more than just another cute book but one that has good art for my grandchildren’s eyes (and ours) and a story pointing to the truth of Jesus. When the book has been found, I then search for a Fontanini piece to go with the collection started years ago for two of our sons’ and their families. The piece is to reflect the story and so this year, we will look for Jotham. I am sure he is among the beautifully crafted Fontanini pieces, and he will be welcomed along with the story just before Jotham comes forth to take his place at the Advent manger. We hope this is more meaningful than the Elf. Our darling grands will outgrow the Elf but never the Story of Jesus and the beauty it represents.

  29. We always did a daily activity advent calendar when my brother and I were growing up. Things like, calling a relative, making paper snowflakes, baking cookies for someone, singing Christmas carols etc. My husband and I have continued the tradition with our kids and it’s such fun!

  30. We have loved and used adornaments each year. We also bake a birthday cake for Jesus and we have a very old (40+ years) small plastic nativity that we put on top of Jesus’ birthday cake. The plastic nativity was from our first Christmas and probably cost 29 cents at Woolworth’s. But it is a precious keepsake/memory from our college/seminary days. ❤️

  31. Last year, I hung only ornaments on our Christmas tree that were about Jesus
    I’d like to start a tradition of following the star.

  32. Last year I wrapped each part of the nativity scene with a bible verse about it. We would unwrap one every 2-3 days in December until the baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. My kids must have enjoyed it because they asked for it again this year.

    We also throw a “Deck the Halls Party” We cook a big pot of chili and invite people who might not be able to decorate (live in dorms, nursing homes, too old, etc) we decorate our “Jesus tree” with Ever Thine Home Ornaments we have collected over the years and talk about the meanings. It’s a fun way to share the gospel and hospitality.

  33. We like to read “the giving manger” and put pieces is straw in the Magee whenever the kids “serve” one another throughout the month.

  34. We love to read the children’s advent series by Arnold Ytreeide. I think we have read through it at least 3 times. Our middle schooler and high schooler still love to listen.

  35. Our family is still young so we are just beginning our own traditions, but growing up we would put up our tree and eat crackers and cheese and talk about our favorite family memories. It was a nice time of bonding for all of us.
    I like how your products combine fun family moments with the Bible.

  36. I have used the Family Life Adorenaments since my adult children were small. I found a gold Christmas mug holder topped by a gold star that we use to hang each ornament. I always look forward to bringing it out each Christmas! I am studying the book of Daniel in Community Bible Study this year and was so blessed to read your story of the Wise Men! Thank you!

  37. On Christmas morning, we bake my grandmother’s recipe of a candy cane shaped pastry to go with our breakfast. It makes more than one, so we choose someone to take the extra to. We try to think of someone who might be having a hard Christmas this year and go bless them with a surprise by dropping it off and then leaving. It doesn’t take much extra time or effort, but it’s a blessing to both them and us! Great way to start Christmas Day – sharing.

  38. We have done different things each year, but there is one that we’ve enjoyed overall. Our pastor and his wife give us the PDF every year for Making an advent chain that goes with every letter of the alphabet. So you print it out and you cut them up in strips and you can alternate green and red. Each letter has a corresponding verse to read with it.

    1. Every year, since my children were toddlers, we have constructed our own homemade Christmas cards, which singularly proclaim the name of our Messiah Yeshua and give glory to God. My son writes a poem which becomes the interior of our card. My daughter draws a coordinating illustration. I take the family portrait which also gets included, cut, paste, fold, insert scriptures, and desktop publish the whole thing. We jokingly say that my husband’s role is as “financial supporter of the arts” (the most critical aspect of all)! Then as a family, we pray over them, and hand deliver as many of them as we possibly can. Thanks be to God for His unspeakable Gift!

  39. We go to a tree farm and hunt for the best tree and then cut it down, strap it to the roof of our mini van, take it home and set it up. We decorate it either that evening or the next day. Some of our favorite ornaments are the Ever Thine Home ornaments and we enjoy pulling out all the old favorites and especially the ones the kids received as young children.

  40. Love it! One of our family traditions is when setting up for Christmas we take turns who gets to do what special setup — putting the star on the tree that leads the way to Jesus as well as setting up the manger and telling the story of baby Jesus. It’s fun to cycle it and take turns watching the littles grow in their understanding of all of this.

  41. Each year we have a display of the Advent Candles and each night at our evening meal we light the candle(s) corresponding to the weeks of advent and discuss their meaning. Our young children love this and it’s such a good, daily reminder that the Christmas season is about HIM.

  42. Although my kids are now grown ups, they still ask me to read aloud to them during the Christmas season, which I absolutely love! A few of our favorite reads are: The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean, Ann Voskamp’s, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas, and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson.

    1. This is great! One of our family favorites is A Family Christmas by Dr. James Dobson. It’s great for kids and adults!. Very touching true Christmas time stories from the past.

  43. Our family’s favorite Christmas tradition is reading the story of Jesus’s birth together on Christmas morning. It slows everything down and centers our thoughts on the true meaning of Christmas.

  44. Every year we read Christmas stories leading up to Christmas. As my children get older it seems harder to find spiritual gifts and traditions to include for Christmas. I am so excited to add this in and I know my children will be thrilled. Thanks so much for helping us to continue to focus on what’s important and bring in new traditions!

  45. When our oldest was a preschooler, we bought a book by Patricia St. John that told the Christmas story with all the details that could be added and still technically be considered true to the Biblical story. I think it is called “A King is Born.” There were also warm, realistic pictures. Ever since, with our second daughter as well, we read that book (replete with animal sounds and Jewish accents to make the wise men comical) on Christmas morning after breakfast and before opening presents to remind us of the true meaning of Christmas, . They look forward to that even at their ages, 30 and 19.

  46. What a wonderful idea. I have already ordered a set of Ornaments for my Son & his family. But could use a set for my Daughter & her family.I ordered her family your wonderful Tree Skirt. However they have 3 children & play Elf on Shelf every year!

    Traditions: We like keepsake ornaments that have a story behind them. Your names of Jesus certainly have a story✝️

    1. Our Christmas morn tradition is to first open/empty the stockings while our Christmas breakfast is cooking. Then we gather at the table and read the meaning behind the carol ‘The twelve days of Christmas’ passing the book for each person to read a ‘day’ and hang the corresponding glass ornament for each one on a small wire Christmas tree.

      1. We do a names of Jesus advent countdown that I made. Each day the kids pull the name out of a little envelope and we read the verse. Then there are wooden blocks with the names on them that get stacked into a Christmas tree shape. It’s a fun way to focus on a different aspect each day leading up to Christmas of who Jesus is and what He has done for us.
        I love your Follow the Star idea and think it would be fun to do between Christmas and epiphany (the traditional day to celebrate the wise men meeting Jesus).

  47. Our favorite Christmas tradition is wearing matching Snoopy Christmas shirts or pajamas to pick out our tree at Home Depot. This year I’ve got two foster kids coming with us! I’m so excited!!

  48. Our favorite Christmas traditions are my Dad or Mom reading the Christmas story from Luke 2 and then we gather around my Dad’s piano and he plays Christmas carols while we sing along. We also like to bake and decorate Christmas cookies together. And I’m 47 years old but we still do this with my 3 siblings, our spouses and the 7 grandchildren.

    I love the idea of Follow The Star and would love to win a set of these ornaments. Thanks for the opportunity to win!

  49. Growing up we never lived near family (Coastie brat!) so on Christmas day we would eat hors d’oeuvres all day and always go to see a movie. My husband’s whole extended family would gather at his grandparents house on Christmas Eve and read the Christmas story from Luke together. Now that we’re married and have a babe of our own we’re building upon these traditions and starting our own. We focus our home décor around the nativity and buy our son a new Christmas book every year. Oh, and matching family pajamas :)

  50. Growing up we had a lot of cousins on my mom’s side of the family that all came together for the holidays. At Thanksgiving we would put all the kids’ names in a hat to take turn drawing names. That was who we would buy a Christmas gift for. Something about the twelve of us all gathered around doing that each year was exciting and fun. Getting together at Christmas to give the gifts were part of the fun too. Good memories!

    I am doing a Nativity tree this year for the first time after collecting ornaments for yeeeeears. I would LOVE to win these ornaments to add to my tree! 💕

    1. Leslie, last year I did our tree to focus on Jesus and decorated our home the same. I created a crib from a small unfinished wood shelf I found at Hobby Lobby and used a small baby doll from my childhood wrapped in swaddling clothes placed in the crib. Then I placed the crib with Baby Jesus in, yes in, our tree in the front and centered.So special!

  51. Amanda McCallister

    One of our favorite Christmas traditions is baking lots of treats that we only have at Christmas time, such as chocolate oatmeal cookies and spiced pecans and candy pretzels. We love to eat! ☺️

  52. We wrap 25 books (new/used same same from last year some new) and put them under the tree, all books are about The true meaning of Christmas. Each night the kids pick one to unwrap and we read it as a family. My kiddos love this tradition! 💗

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