My sister found and pinned THIS link that gives a WHOLE TON of Elf on the Shelf alternatives. You already know that we're doing the elf, but what I haven't mentioned is that we also find Mary and Joseph each morning. The above link has great ideas about bringing Christ into your home through Advent this season. I loved a LOT of the ideas but just picked one for us (since we already do Elf on the Shelf AND Jesse Tree).
A few years ago a friend of mine told me that Baby Jesus didn't arrive in their Nativity until Christmas day. Huh? It made sense, but it didn't make sense to me. My mama was a proponent of actually allowing us to play with our Nativity. We loved it and it often stayed out year-round. Not to disrespect the Nativity, but there were probably often Barbie families around the Nativity "going to church." Anywho, I have several Nativities in our house and I chose Mary and Joseph from the one that Poppy bought me in Israel when I was in college. (I don't call him Poppy, I call him Sonny, but since I refer to him on here as Poppy all the time I thought no one would know who he was! Ha! Anyway, sidenote to say it's not my granddaddy.) So our Mary and Joseph have been on a "journey to Bethlehem" around our house.
The key for us with doing this is to use it as a constant reminder that this Advent season is about Jesus' birth. The real story of Christmas. Santa is fun, but Jesus is the reason we celebrate! We've tried hard to put Mary and Joseph in places where James will see them throughout the day. His place at the table, in front of his toothbrush, etc. Our elf often hides, but Mary and Joseph don't! On Christmas Eve morning they'll make their way to the Nativity and on Christmas Day Baby Jesus will have arrived!
(Mary and Joseph don't look as creepy in person as they do in these pictures. For some reason their eyes and the color on Joseph looks strange...)