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.



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  1. 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.

  2. 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!!

  3. 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!

  4. 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 ;)

  5. 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! ( :

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. Lovely. What a terrific way to count down to Christmas. So much better than pulling candy out of a door every morning. BONUS…you 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.

  11. 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!

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