“Journey to Bethlehem” Is a Heartwarming Take on Elf on the Shelf

This is the perfect holiday tradition for those of us who get a little creeped out by an elf on our shelves.

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There’s no denying that Elf on the Shelf is one of the holiday’s most entertaining family traditions. Sent by Santa himself, the pesky elf keeps an eye on your kids during the day to make sure they behave. But during the night, it moves from place to place around the house.

The mischievous elf’s arrival isn’t the only way to signal the Christmas season in your home. Looking for Elf on the Shelf alternatives? You probably have a stocking full of retro Christmas traditions from your childhood, but if your family sets up a nativity scene, here’s how to start a new tradition that involves both parents and kids.

What Is a “Journey to Bethlehem”?

If you’re familiar with the story, you’ll know that Joseph led pregnant Mary (atop a donkey) over many miles to return to his ancestral hometown of Bethlehem. With a nativity set, this “journey” can be made into a seasonal tradition that will engage your kids from the first of December all the way to Christmas Day.

There are fewer tricks and pranks from an impish elf, but it’s still a playful way to count down the days to Christmas.

While we’re at it, here are some alternatives to a traditional Christmas tree that won’t leave behind a pile of needles.

How to Set It Up

Setting up “Journey to Bethlehem” is simple because it follows similar rules to Elf on the Shelf. Start by setting up your nativity scene like normal, in a spot in the house where everyone will see it—near the hearth, on the coffee table or beneath the Christmas tree. Don’t set Mary and Joseph up with the rest of the figurines; instead, move them around the house throughout the weeks leading up to Christmas. Every night, set them up in a new location for your kids to find during the day before finally completing their journey to join the rest of their friends in the nativity scene on Christmas Even.

That’s it! There’s no hard date to when you should start the “Journey to Bethlehem” tradition, either. Feel free to start right after Thanksgiving, or sometime on or after December 1.

Sticking with Elf on the Shelf this year? Here are 101 Christmas treats you can make to welcome back Santa’s helper. And because some holiday traditions can’t be skipped, don’t forget to tune in to CBS’ Christmas specials and Hallmark’s November Christmas movie marathon!

Nativity Scenes That You’ll Cherish

Hannah Twietmeyer
Hannah is a writer and content creator based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with a passion for all things food, health, community and lifestyle. She is a journalism graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a previous dining and drink contributor for Madison Magazine.