While the mischievous Elf on the Shelf was busy watching boys and girls and reporting to Santa if they misbehaved, the shelf got a little crowded with reindeer, a Do-Good Elf, a Mensch on a Bench and … about 20 crazy dinosaurs.

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Let the Dinosaurs – and Your Imagination – Run Wild

You won’t find these 20 dinosaurs in a toy store or online, but you can copy Atlanta Parent staffer Cindy Ford’s idea. She created a dinosaur tradition for her four children when the original Elf began visiting the homes of her kids’ friends.

Plastic dinosaurs break out of their toy box every night in December and start doing all kinds of nutty stuff – staging a snowball fight using cotton balls, using ribbons to climb the Christmas tree and hide ornaments, breaking into the pantry to steal mini-marshmallows, playing a Monopoly game. On Christmas Eve, her kids get to eat the gingerbread houses they’ve made, but the dinosaurs get the first bite on the night before.

“I read once that the more traditions your family has, the more kids fondly remember their childhoods,” Ford says.

When she runs out of ideas for dinosaur antics, she’s not above stealing one from Elf on the Shelf. So steal her idea, or call in some superheroes, Star Wars characters or Minions.

Start your own family tradition this year with the original Elf or one of his competitors.

Here’s what’s on the shelf:

Do-Good Elf

He’s a plush doll kids can play with all year long by Portable North Pole. Buy the elf, Karamelli the reindeer, or Okida the Husky  and kids receive a customized video from Santa. Elf, from $25; reindeer and husky, from $20.77.

Reindeer in Here

A cute book and plush reindeer arrive in early December so kids can explore true Christmas wishes. On Christmas Eve, the reindeer returns to the North Pole. $29.99.

The Mensch on a Bench

An adorable mensch and his book teach the lessons of Hanukkah and help families celebrate with a new tradition. $29.99.

The Elf on the Shelf

The boy who started it all now comes as a boy or girl, with light or dark skin, or choose an accessory for your elf. $29.95.

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