My childhood years predate Elf on the Shelf but we had a family Christmas-time tradition of our own: Secret Angel. Modeled after a story in Highlights for Children by the same title, Secret Angel centered around anonymous random acts of kindness done for each other. Putting on someone's electric blanket before bed, doing another person's chore for them, making someone's bed, fixing a broken toy - anything kind or thoughtful done in Secret and done anonymously meant you were being that person's Secret Angel. When an act of kindness was completed, the Secret Angel could place a piece of straw in the manger inside our Nativity. The goal: to collectively create the fullest, softest bed for baby Jesus by Christmas Eve.
Instead of focusing on not doing bad things (being naughty), this Christmas tradition focuses on positive traits: doing good things for others. In short, Secret Angel focuses on compassion, kindness, selflessness, and a heart of giving - all the character traits we try to teach our children. It focuses on the true spirit of Christmas.
As the years progressed, our model of Secret Angel expanded. Our family decided to be Secret Angels to other families. I can remember shopping, as a teenager, for the children of the family we had adopted as our Secret Angel "project." It was a mixture of emotions: fun, difficult, humbling, disappointing, joyful - such a range of feelings and thoughts. Secretly dropping off the gifts we purchased was the best part! We placed the gifts on their porch, knocked on the door and raced back to our vehicle. We drove off quickly so the family wouldn't recognize our car - none of us had ever seen Dad drive so fast before and all of us kids were giggling.
You could say that Secret Angel left an impression on me. I continued the Secret Angel tradition on my own. In college, I explained Secret Angel to my roommates and we eagerly picked out someone we knew to receive creative & random acts of kindness during the Christmas season. As a single woman in my 20's with limited income, I managed to keep Secret Angel alive every other year. As housemates and friends, we would collaborate together to silently & stealthily bestow anonymous gifts of Christmas cheer upon unsuspecting acquaintances.
Today, Project: Secret Angel is alive & well. Although each of us kids is grown - we still participate in being Secret Angels. At our family Christmas get-together we share stories from our individual Secret Angel excursions and swap ideas for next season. Amazingly, among the 8 of us, Secret Angel has had an international reach, expanding to families in other countries & continents.
Personally, I cannot wait until Jonah is old enough to fully understand the concept so we can reel Secret Angel back in to the family circle. It will be fun to once again perform anonymous random acts of kindness for each other - filling the manger with straw, one piece at a time - in anticipation for December 24th.