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bernard the christmas elf – advent activities

Last December I came up with the idea of having an elf leave the children an envelope every night, with an activity or small gift, to count down to Christmas. We named our elf Bernard. He was bossy, and funny, and a bit cranky. The kids LOVED HIM. He was such a huge hit that we are doing it again this year, although I think his sister Bernice may be taking over the job.

This is what I did:

First, I came up with a list of activities for Bernard to bossily tell us to complete every day. Here they are, in the language he used.

Go to Starbucks for hot chocolate
Have dinner by candlelight
Cuddle under a blanket
Cut out tissue paper snowflakes and decorate your windows
Play with a puppy
Get your tree!
Decorate your tree!
Make breakfast for dinner and eat in your pajamas
Write your Dad a letter listing your favorite memory, your favorite thing about him, and how much you love him. (This fell on Jeff’s birthday.)
Make a Christmas card for someone you love that lives far away, and mail it.
It’s time to decorate the outside of your house, you lazy’s! MAKE IT GOOD!
Your Aunt Alisha is coming over today! Take her to the park and bring your scooters!
Today you get to pile in the car and travel down to Seamus and Finn’s house!
Bake cookies and share them with a neighbor.
Wrap up in your warmest clothes. You are going up to play in the snow!

Some other advent activities can be found here or here. Also, here are some fun Christmas games.

I also came up with a few small little gifts that Bernard could give.

“Snowman poop” – powdered donut holes (It was Bernard’s job to pick up all the snowman poop in his village – and when he heard that human’s liked to eat it for breakfast, he was disgusted, but he shared with us.)
Family game night in a tin
A new ornament for each of the children to place on the tree
A small painted portrait of an elf – it was a “self portrait”

Gumballs for the gumball machine – he filled it up and made the children find it

Then I gathered together some old supplies for Bernard’s letters. The only thing I had to buy were the number tags, everything else was on hand. I wanted to use the same things over and over, things that the children had never really seen before. I thought airmail envelopes would be a nice touch. I also used stickers, stamps, twine, square envelopes, labels, and number tags. Some other tags I like here or here.

Every night after everyone else was asleep, Bernard would put together the envelope for the next morning. He would slip it under one of the bedroom doors before heading back to the North Pole.

My kids talked about this all the time, have even continued through-out the year. I absolutely loved doing this for them last year. It made everything just that much more magical. They are really looking forward to Bernard (or Bernice?) coming back, and so am I.



Anna Smith - I love it! We have Ethan the elf (from Elf on a Shelf) that reports to Santa every night, after everyone is in bed, on the good and bad doings of our kids. He returns every morning in a new spot and they have to find him before they begin the day. Needless to say, I remind them a 1000x a day that Ethan is watching.

heidi - We have an elf (Avery, named after a girl in my son's class that he was smitten with last year at this time) that visits our house. I love the idea of the envelopes & I'm going to see if I can mix this in here and there (as she's already here for the season) Thanks for the inspiration!!

Janine - love this idea! My kids would would totally love this!

Mara - what a great idea! Love it and thanks for sharing :)

quietangelsb - LOVE this idea!!!

Leslie - Oh, YES!!! We need a Bernard at our house, too!! Since we're a "keepin' it real" kind of gang, a slightly sassy Christmas elf would be PERFECT!! Thanks for sharing, Tara!!

dawn - *love* this idea! my son is only 3, so we will definitely be able to incorporate this (probably next year) as a new tradition for our family. thanks for sharing!

Jen - Love this - thanks for the great ideas!!!

Benga - Tara, Just in case you haven't been told today....YOU ARE AWESOME!!! We also have an elf (Mater....yeah, my oldest was obsessed with the movie CARS a few years back) and i have been racking my Mommy brain for something fresh and new to do with him, especially now that my oldest is almost 7. I love your ideas so much better than just a piece of candy or a toy in the Advent Calendar pocket. So much more personal and REAL! THANK YOU FOR YOUR WONDERFUL AND INSPIRING IDEAS!

Taryn - What a fabulous idea - Can't wait to try this when my baby is old enough!! Thanks for sharing!!

karen - I LOVE this!! Thanks for the wonderful idea, our kids are just hitting that really fun stage and this is great!

Krysta - I so so so love this idea honey! LOVE. IT! Tell Bernard and Bernice I'm coming over! xo

Chantal Mowat - What a fantastic idea! The only thing we do here is our advent calendar, lol! It's a beautiful wooden hand painted advent calendar that I found in a craft shop though and every night I fill it with either candy or chocolate or stickers and if they're lucky, a loonie or two ;)

Kelly - Wonderful, beautiful idea! I've been trying to think of ways to make this Christmas season less about the consumerism and more about togetherness. You are brilliant! Thank you!!

amber fischer - Love love this idea. I have to admit that most advent calendars just aren't really my style... this, however, sounds right up my alley! My daughter is only 2 right now, but I think by next Christmas she would get a kick out of this. Thanks for sharing such a fabulous idea! ( :

meg duerksen - it's as cute to look at as the list is itself. awesome!

Lisa Damrosch - Totally stealing some of "Bernard's" ideas. Holbrook comes to our house every year on Todd's birthday (the 6th) and he's been running out of things to do that will entertain a now 8 year old. Got to mix it up a bit this year and I'm loving the note idea...and the snowman poop. Awesome.

Jennifer - The snowman poop is the best. I wish I'd come up with that...

Kim Mallory - Wow! This is absolutely phenomenal! I think I can squeeze this in. My kids are 12 & 14 but I'm sure they would love it! xoxox Merry Christmas!

kimberly - i remember this from last year. i remember thinking you are genius. because you are. i might try a version of this this year. maybe ten days out....i don't think i can handle more than ten days. send me some energy...some christmas spirit (i'm still sadly lacking in that department)....can't seem to get back to who i was before all the badness came down). but i am trying. you, my sweet friend, are a good mom. an amazing human. a gentle soul.

Kim - LOVE this! We have an elf and my ballerinas write to him a lot. He then writes back. I've wanted to have him leave things for them, but everything I've come up with has a store name on it and my 10 year old would bust me in a minute! Thanks for the FANTASTIC ideas!

angelica - great idea! i'm gonna see if I can come up with something similar....

amy tangerine - you ar eso stinkin clever

jennifer - Letter from Bernard...I can't read, willing to share? LV your idea and I'm too tired already to be creative, so if you could share - AWESOME! My 13 yr. old going on 18 has lost the Christmas glow. This would be a fun thing for us to do, be a little silly! P.S. I visit your blog daily and so enjoy your photos and life happenings, thanks for being apart of my morning routine!

heather jadd - LOVE your idea. you are so creative and i love to watch all the fun and creative things you do with your family. what an amazing mom you are!

CatieP - I love this idea - loved it last year too - thanks for reminding me of it.

Lorena Mora - I love the snowman poop, hilarious!

julie moon - I would love to save this list for my kids for next year...can you email a version of this post?

annie - SO adorable!! What great memories for all! Merry Christmas! Hope your holiday season is extra special.

Katya - great idea! Try to follow this ..

Jules - This is an amazing idea! Through I do not have children yet, I will be saving this one for the future for sure!!

Tracy - love this idea!

Gabby - I LOVE this idea!!! You are soooo creative.

Konul Rosario - What a WONDERFUL idea! :) Thanks for sharing it!

Shauna - I love that each day is something to do. What great memories your family will have.

Emily - Brilliant! I have to try a variation on this, maybe name our elf Gus. Fantastic idea - love your holiday spirit!

Charla - You are brilliant! I love this!

niki - Love it all-especially the family game night -where did you get the charades/picture it card pack?

sally l - you are a star :)

michelle thomas - Lovely. What a terrific way to count down to Christmas. So much better than pulling candy out of a door every morning. make memories, do acts of charity, spend time together and it actually seems like a side effect would be a more organized holiday season that's fun as well. The best holiday family idea/activity I have ever seen.

Kelli Taylor - You are the coolest Mom ever! How fun!!

Rachel Dallaire - love, love, *love* this idea!!!

Sonja {sodafoto} - Lovely lovely lovely idea! Lovely pics too btw. :-D

sarah - LOVE LOVE LOVE this idea. i might steal it when my kids are a bit older.

Christine - What a cute idea! I love it, my house needs something like that, we've all been in a funk lately!

bentley - Oh Tara - can you send Bernard here? That is fabulous. I love it!

lee kriel - thank you. today. YOU. made. me. a. better. mom! thank you for the inspiration, as always.

Resi - Tara, I loved your Christmas elf idea last year and was soo happy to see all these photos! Lovely! I'd love to sneak into your house and be another child of yours ;) haha. Have a great advent season!

Emily - I gave this great idea a NOD on my blog this morning. Unfortunately I am having major surgery next week, but next year, I'm ON IT! Blessings. emily

here be dragons - This is such a fun a precious idea. Snowman poop. :)

lindsay - I love the snowman poop! I follow the blog for and saw this cute idea and thought it would be a fun addition:

Rebecca Little - We do the same thing (minus the elf) but yours has much more panache. Love your ideas! I'm going to steal like crazy!

Katie - SUCH a great idea! Love the "snowman poop". rolf

shannon m. - you.are.brilliant.

jen - LOVE this. lovelovelove this. must. do. thanks. i needed this jumpstart.

heather - brilliant!

Jennifer Chaney - I love you.

Lea - Oh my. That is just about the coolest thing ever. x

Caroline - You are an INCREDIBLE mommy. I aspire to be like you one day....

tara pollard pakosta - that is so clever!!! I love this Tara!! thank for sharing! I think I saw this last year and meant to get the elf, but never did! awesome! tara

Amy - LOOOOOOOOVE this. I am so stealing this! You rock Tara.

christine - Hey Belle, I sure love this idea of"Bernard the Elf". Some great ideas in there. Feeling rather inspired. I hope you don't mind but I shared this on my FB page. You are amazing! Miss you. love you

Georgia - /you are so good! This is the kind of thing that I used to do, but I'm really finding it hard to find the magic this year. We usually have an advent calendar that I made years ago with pockets filled with 4 chocolates for the kids to have after dinner every night, but this year my 16 and 14 year olds are on the wrestling team and watching their weight, so we haven't even done that!!!

jen - are any of your kids scared of bernard? we just started this at my house (thanks for the idea!) and my 3 year old is terrified of the elf. and has resorted to carrying around a bag filled with every raccoon figurine imaginable. (to be honest. i had no idea how many raccoon figurines we had.) why, you ask? because on the movie elf? the raccoon attacks elf. so therefore elves must be scared of raccoons now. right?

Mary Jo - I LOVE it! :0)

Patricia - Hi! We have an elf named Snowflake(also elf on the shelf) and I LOVE your ideas. I'm going to start this weekend since they are going to be home for the holidays after that it'll be perfect for activities. I found some mini-elf size knit sweater and hat ornaments at Target. Snowflake's going to be donating them for the kids to use as ornaments. ;)

mellie price - I love this idea and can't wait to do something similar. Maybe next year when Scarlett is 2. I think Cleatus our house gnome will work as our elf, don't you :)

Sheryl - You are so creative, it's amazing. I think I may have to start this with my family. Thanks for bringing it back to great family values.

Juls - Oh, this looks so FUN. It's too late to do the entire month so maybe I'll pull it off as a 12 days of Christmas thing. Thanks!

Kristie - I could kiss you right now!! Thank you for sharing your fabulous ideas!! We so needed this... we've been pretty lame!! Mr. Elfie is stepping it up thanks to YOU!!

Lisa Jay - So so so fun!!! love it

Dorothy - I love this! I wanted to do an advent calendar but I didn't want to plan out the whole month in advance. Your way gives me the flexibility to plan day by day!

Paula - Going to make a Elf package for my son's family with three children. I think the elf on the shelf is rather scary looking so I purchased an Annalee poseable elf with a cute expression on his face. I'm going to give them all of your ideas plus many more. Thanks for sharing

Brilliant Christmas Idea « Never Static - [...] read about her fantastic idea here: Bernard the Christmas Elf [...]

In the Lane, we’ll conspire — Running Stitch - [...] This Post Via Zoot from Just be blogged, is hilarious and inspiring. If you are of the tongue in cheek vein, check out Bernard, the Big Bad Elf (I have taken liberties here) as he bosses his chosen family around and delivers snowman poop (donut holes). [...]

{ Worth Sharing … } » In the Moment | Valerie Koop - [...] of my favorite photographers, Tara Whitney, blogged about what her family Elf does for her kids. Totally cool and inspiring. ALL I can think is that our family Elf (Finley, we DO love you) needs [...]

Christmas Snippets! « - [...] Bernard the Christmas Elf sounds like the best elf ever (excepting perhaps, Buddy, of [...]

home again l 365 grateful | { thru my eyes } - [...] Santa Claus is coming to Town, there are lots of gifts under the tree & more fun in store when Bernard (Santa’s elf) hides his next [...]

Intention « These Stones - [...] I wanted to do something a little more INTENTIONAL for advent.  I love  ideas like this or that.  And then I realize that I want to do it and it’s mid-December.  And it’s too [...]

Christmas Family Fun Ideas | Katy Montessori School - [...] Whitney introduced “Bernard the Christmas Elf” to her children. Bernard would leave holiday treats and greetings for the children to find. Have a [...]

The Jesse Tree and Advent Calendar Ideas « These Stones - [...] snowman poop!  (seriously….GO TO THIS POST and read more about Bernard the Christmas Elf.  Tara Whitney has a phenomenal blog and the most [...]

Advent Activity: Elf on a Shelf variation, Carl the Elf - [...] He visited them every day, leaving an envelope with an activity or a gift. She blogged about it here. We remembered Bernard recently and decided we HAD to make this happen in the Solar household this [...]

advent activities * elf-style » - [...] the end of the Christmas season last year, i stumbled upon this blog post and vowed to remember it for the 2011 Christmas season. {i bet you’re thinking right now, [...]

DPP ’11 // Snowman Poop & a Tribute to Tom Dailey « These Stones - [...] the wonderful idea, to have “Snowman Poop” one day for our lead up to Christmas.  Here’s her original link to the [...]

Elf On The Shelf Is Coming To Town » A Life Examined - [...] liked them all! I didn’t know which to pick! Then I stumbled upon this idea. She combined EOTS with advent and I knew I had my winner! It was so open ended. I could do [...]

Embracing the season - [...] snowman poop for breakfast {more great ideas for your advent [...]

dpp :: december 13th :: light & snowman poop « These Stones - [...] for December 13th on our Advent Calendar, the yearly consuming of Snowman Poop {idea described here}. [...]

Advent Calendar Activities For Kids | The Connection We Share - [...] you’re looking for more advent activities involving an elf, check out what Carl the Elf and Bernard the Christmas Elf are up [...]

The ULTIMATE Guide to Elf on the Shelf - [...] Bernard the Christmas Elf – Advent Activities from Just Be Blogged is such a creative idea.  Their Elf leaves a bag with family activities each night. One of the greatest ideas I found was at Little Pumpkin Grace blog: North Pole Breakfast 2010 North Pole Breakfast 2011 How cool is this?!?  I so need to remember this for next year – our very own special Elf Breakfast! Creating Couture Parties (awesome site by the way) has fantastic ideas for creating a mini Elf on the Shelf Pary! [...]

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