Scout elf and cookie tradition helps keep family connected |

Scout elf and cookie tradition helps keep family connected

Amy Roby

Years ago, when our sons were small, my mom sent us an "Elf on the Shelf" book and doll. At the time, I'd never heard of the "Elf on the Shelf," but the doll reminded me of the colorful felted elves that decorated my grandparents' Christmas tree each year when I was young, and this made me smile.

The book explained that the elf was Santa's special assistant who helped track the naughty and nice list by reporting back to the North Pole each night. Each morning, the elf can be found perching in a different part of the house, keeping watch over all the family and reminding us to share the spirit of the season through kindness, helpfulness, and having fun.

Every year since then, our elf has shown up every Dec. 1. We've seen him hanging out on top of picture frames, sitting on the fireplace mantel, and suspended from the light over the kitchen table, though it's getting tougher to locate him as time goes by. Recently, he's been found sitting in a teacup inside the china cabinet and peeking out from the top of the grandfather clock.

The "Elf on the Shelf" is a pretty popular phenomenon these days; there are web pages dedicated to ideas for "Scout Elves," online photo galleries, and even an "Elf on the Shelf" movie, but our elf has remained pretty low-key. He sticks around through Christmas Eve then disappears until the next December rolls around.

I read recently that having an "Elf on the Shelf" is like having the Tooth Fairy come every night for a month, which made me laugh. There have been a couple of times when our elf has tried to trick us by staying in the same spot two nights in a row, but he's usually pretty good about switching things up and keeping it interesting.

The elf always reminds me of my mom, and all the ways that her thoughtfulness and affinity for traditions weave their way throughout so many of our family's holiday customs. I've started baking this week (which is always a bit of a questionable undertaking for me), but one of my favorite and most simple and reliable cookie recipes comes from her:

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Mom's Christmas cookies

Cream together ½ C sugar (white OR brown) with ½ C butter. Beat in 2 eggs. Slowly incorporate 2½ C flour, 2 tsp. baking soda and 1 tsp. vanilla. Chill 3-4 hours, then roll out to 1/4" thickness on a lightly floured board and cut with holiday-shaped cookie cutters. Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350 for 7-12 minutes.

These cookies aren't particularly sweet. Sometimes I decorate them with colorful sprinkles before putting them in the oven, but this year I'm going to try my hand at royal icing. I've also had success forming the dough into a log shape, rolling it in sprinkles, and cutting it into rounds before baking.

Wishing you all the delights of this festive time of year.

Amy Roby can be reached at