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The Spirit Post book

Entrepreneurial Lake Highlands couple presents a little friendly competition for the almighty Elf on the Shelf.

I have a Facebook page, so I have seen Elf on the Shelf. Yet it wasn’t until a recent trip to my sister’s place, which she inhabits with a husband and my two young nephews, that I received my Elf on the Shelf education. Essentially, Elf is a little snitch doll that watches children and reports back to Santa.

A growing phenomenon over the past few years, this doll, packaged with a DVD and book that explains everything, is a million-dollar business and a mind-blowing success story for the moms who came up with the idea. I witnessed the magic at my sister’s house as cries and fights were silenced, complaints turned to compliance and vegetables were chewed and swallowed, all thanks to the ever-observing elf. There are a number of Elf on a Shelf critics, though, who disapprove of his methods (this Atlantic magazine author, for example).

One Lake Highlands family is offering a positive alternative to “threat-based Christmas toys and stories like The Elf on the Shelf.” It’s rooted in a beautifully illustrated book called The Spirit Post, and it “uses positive motivation to encourage kids to do acts of kindness daily,” according to creator Amelia Cardenas.

Will the owl replace the elf?

Will the owl replace the elf?

“We’re stoked about the idea of families sitting down together and brainstorming ways to spread kindness and kiddos going out into the world and acting on those ideas,” Cardenas says. “Lots of little kindnesses by lots of little people equal a big impact.”

The Spirit Post uses not elves but messenger owls who deliver notes about good deeds to Santa and his team.

Amelia wrote the book, which contains the backstory about a Christmas-spirit shortage at the North Pole. Artist Jessica Lanan illustrated it. Amelia and husband Arik dreamed up the project just last year and launched a successful Kickstarter campaign — there you can learn more about the project and product.

Packages include the book, a plush snowy owl and a notebook for recording messages, and is available on

The Cardera family

The Cardena family

The Cardenas are high school sweethearts who live in Lake Highlands with their 3-year-old daughter and 23-month-old son. Arik is a photographer and stay at home dad; Amelia is an immigration lawyer.