1. My children are "older" -- ages 4 and 6 -- and my oldest is on the verge of disbelief. He's still pretty adamant that Santa is real, but the vigor with which he is holding on to his belief tells me he is trying VERY hard to believe. There is some doubt in there that he's trying to stamp out by his loud proclamations of belief. Prolonging the charade about Santa by adding an Elf seems cruel to me when in just a few short years I'm going to have to tell him the truth about Saint Nicholas.
2. The Truth about Saint Nicholas -- has nothing to do with elves or the North Pole, but with giving, and mercy, and love. While Santa WAS a real person, I want to set up the things we tell them now about Santa that will translate easier to the REAL story about the REAL guy. The fewer lies I have to talk my way out of, the better.
3. Jesus-focused Alternatives -- I have recently found out about an alternative to the Elf that does tie Santa in with Jesus/Christianity. It is called "My Secret Angel and Me." Instead of an elf, you get an angel, and she tells the Biblical Christmas story, reports back to Heaven, and doesn't disappear after Christmas is over. I'm not sold on that either, but it is an alternative choice. I have also heard of "The Three Traveling Wise Men" but a google search came up short. Both of these focus less on Santa and more on Jesus.
My family is doing a 24-day children's devotional called "A Meaningful Christmas." This is a daily 2-3 minute verse, story, and discussion that walks us through Creation to the birth of Jesus and touches briefly on His sacrifice and why it is so important that Christians celebrate the birth of our Savior. (The physical earth-coming of Jesus began the process and prophecy of redemption for every human's soul. Therefore, we rejoice and remember and celebrate the circumstances by which God showed how much He loves us!!) There is an ornament for each day, and the kids love to touch, look at, and hang the ornament on our special small tree.
Don't call me a total Scrooge (I do occasionally call myself one, so I guess you can too without hurting my feelings), because we DO Santa, we just also DO Jesus even more in our house. I don't intend to start any controversy, and I love all my Elf-Shelf-ing friends dearly. But I don't intend to sacrifice any of my precious marshmellows in the Elf's fishing hole, or toss powdered sugar around to make a "snow storm" that I get to clean up later! OR have kids waking up at o'dark thirty to find out what Mr. Elf has done THIS time.
But y'all have fun with that!