80 creative Elf on the Shelf ideas to try this year, from easy to elaborate (2023)

Editor's note: This story may contain spoilers for prying little eyes!

It’s that time of year — you know, when theElf on the Shelfkeeps an eye on the kids and lets them know Christmas is coming. Which means parents must make a mad dash each night to rearrange their special friend before dawn.

Elf on the Shelf is a popular tradition where families use a plush stuffed elf to “keep an eye” on children during the countdown to Christmas. The family elf gets a unique name and arrives between the day after Thanksgiving and Dec. 1.

Through the years, the trend has gained popularity with parents often seeking out elaborate measures with their North Pole visitor in an effort to make sure children are on their best behavior.

"The Lumistella Company is proud to offer one-of-a-kind joyful family moments using characters kids’ love at Christmastime," Chanda Bell, founder & co-CEO ofThe Lumistella Company, home ofThe Elf on The Shelf, tells TODAY.com."The traditions we offer are simple, classic and timeless."

Bell says that the brand will launch several exciting new products this season, including board and card games, an elf carrier and "In Case of Elftastrophe!" — a book dedicated to cures for the dreaded moment someone touches their magical elf.

"Regardless of age, every family member who chooses to do so can participate in our story-world of Santa Claus by reading books together, watching one of our four animated specials on Netflix, or by embracing the silliness of elf hide-n-seek," Bell says.

Whether you plan to go all out withelf accessoriesor want to keep it simple, here are 80Elf on the Shelf ideas from arrival to departure to try, starting with ten ideas from the head elves themselves.

1. A full clean-out.

Nothing says holiday purge like digging through the couch cushions — so put your elf to work! Pose the family elf digging into the couch and stage anything he or she finds nearby. If your couch is pristine, stage a few items like candy, coins or toys.

80 creative Elf on the Shelf ideas to try this year, from easy to elaborate (1)

2. Color coded.

Grab your elves and any candy that may be sitting in the pantry. Color code the sweets by color and prop up the elf (or elves!) just in time for your kids to notice what they've been up to all night.

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3. Flip it up!

From the window, to the wall, the elf is flipping these halls! Take family photo frames and flip them upside for a silly setup, courtesy of the family elf.

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4. Just roll with it!

It's time to wrap it up in the bathroom! Your elf will cut a small section of wrapping paper and tape it to an empty toilet paper roll to create this punny scene.

80 creative Elf on the Shelf ideas to try this year, from easy to elaborate (4)

5. Working up a sweat.

A virtual sweat session might be in order this season. Set up your laptop and display Lumistella Company's downloadable elf image.

80 creative Elf on the Shelf ideas to try this year, from easy to elaborate (5)

6. Bringing the jokes!

If Christmas jokes make your kids laugh out loud, it's time to bring more fun by setting up the family elf with a joke or two. Make a little sign and get ready for some holiday chuckles.

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7. An elf makes their mark.

A dry erase marker is all that's needed to make this all-in-good fun setup come to life. Grab a black dry erase marker and a nearby family photo. Draw on a mustache, a beard or dramatic eyebrows and pose your elf looking mischievous with the marker nearby.

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8. Waffle pop-its!

Does your kiddo love pop-its? Make a DIY version using waffles for the base and candy, like Skittles, for the pop-its. Even elves can't get enough of this wholesome activity!

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9. Hungry for a snack?

Got a few extra veggies on hand? Make a little plate for the elf and your child(ren) to enjoy this season. Bonus points if it's shaped like a Christmas tree.

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10. Time for bread, little elf!

It's time to tuck in the elf, who may or may not be confused about bed and bread. Grab some slices of bread and get to tucking — eye mask optional!

80 creative Elf on the Shelf ideas to try this year, from easy to elaborate (10)

11. A delicious start to the season

Welcoming someone from the North Pole at your home? Consider introducing your elf with a box of cookies straight from Santa's workshop.

12. Special delivery, from your favorite elf!

Maybe your polar arrival should come by post this year. Craft a short note from your child's beloved plush friend and cut holes for arms and legs. Prop up on the counter — or even in the mailbox — for a truly magical welcome.

13. Beep, beep! Elf is here!

Can elves drive? Or maybe they take a bus? Use whatever toy with wheels your child may have forgotten to put away and put the family elf inside for an all-aboard welcome.

14. Ready to pop!

With a little prep work the family elf can come by balloon. Companies offering balloon elf arrivals are available online, or parents can snag a balloon at the store and tie their elf to the string. Whichever you choose, arrival by air is pretty awesome.

15. A full spread!

Get the whole table involved with this elaborate spread fit for ... an elf. Balloons, tinsel, snow globes and festive place settings bring this North Pole party together. Breakfast not included.

16. Countdown to Christmas!

If your child counts the days until Christmas, this Advent-style elf arrival might just be your ticket to seasonal success. A number each day makes the month elf's play.

17. We made you breakfast!

What are your kids eating that day for breakfast? Put your elf beside their plate and "ta da!" The elf has taken credit for their meal!

18. Taking a little elf snooze.

Your elf has been working hard this season — they need a nap! Grab some toilet paper for a homemade hammock and let them swing from a towel bar.

19. Get pumped for Christmas!

Getting swole at the North Pole: Grab two marshmallows (gum drops would work too!) and a straw for your elf's own private sweat sesh.

20. Snow angels for Santa.

What's not to love about a classic snow angel? Whether you use coconut (as shown below), flour or sugar, you can keep the mess minimal by making it happen in a large baking dish or on a sheet pan.

21. Climbing to un-bow-lievable heights.

Grab a few bows from your wrapping paper stash and make a DIY rock climbing wall for your elf. Stagger the bows on the wall and affix the elf mid-climb!

22. That's a wrap!

One tortilla is all you need to make this elf prep a success. Wrap your elf up, cut a hole for the face and plate him or her up. Of course, the sign is a fun touch if you've got a few extra minutes and a printer!

23. Elf fun for everyone!

Gather up the toys and get to work on an epic toilet paper game. No steps? No problem. Roll the toilet paper across any room in your home.

24. Masks make great hammocks.

If you've got a mask handy, make a hammock and call it good. Hang your family's elf from kitchen cabinets, a shelf or grab some stick-on hooks like the crafty parent below.

25. Tic-Tac-Bow.

Tic-tac-toe — but make it festive. Grab some painter's tape or washi tape, a couple small bows and any blank surface of your home for this fun (and easy!) play on a classic.

26. Elves watching..."Elf"!

Is this some kind of elf inception? Whether your family has two elves or you just want to gather up some other toys for a Christmas movie night, this scene comes together using a cupcake wrapper, popcorn and a personal viewing of "Elf" on a laptop.

27. Could use a little help here!

Two rolls of toilet paper and a few raisins (or chocolate chips) aid in pulling this messy scene together. Don't worry, most kids think poop is funny — especially when it comes from an elf.

28. Elf on the Shelf: “Greatest Showman” edition

It's time to bring a circus to your home with some string and a pipe cleaner. Affix the string to adjacent walls and the pipe cleaner to your elves' hands and send them flying.

29. Maybe your elf is feeling lucky.

What is more fun than scratch-off lottery tickets? Have the adults do the scratching the night before and arrange the tickets with your elf. Even better if you've got some winning numbers!

30. Picture perfect.

Family photos will never be the same once the elf comes to town. Grab pom-poms for noses (any color will work!) and stick them on family noses for a laugh-inducing wakeup.

31. Giddy up!

It's time to take your child's favorite animals for a wild ride! Grab your elf and put them on the back of whichever animal toy got left out. Bonus points if it's a prehistoric pal.

32. Foodie fun.

What is funnier than faces on food? Grab some eggs (or bananas) and, using a felt-tip pen, draw some funny faces. A toothpick works as your elf's conductor wand, or place the open pen nearby to indicate a crafty elf.

33. Beep beep!

Parking jam! It's time for the toy cars to get involved in the seasonal fun. Line them up and put the elf on the largest vehicle for some traffic that may actually make the kids smile.

34. Spidey senses.

If you've got a Spider-Man fan at home, this elf set-up will make them squeal. A DIY Spidey mask and some string to get your Santa spy swinging from a light fixture are all you need to make this one come together.

35. An elf coloring party.

What's more fun than a coloring sheet? A coloring party that gets started by your family's elf (or elves!). Print some Christmas coloring sheets or simply open up to a coloring book that has been laying around.

Fun Elf On The Shelf Ideas

For parents interested in upping the ante this year, here are a handful of creative Elf scenes that are sure to please ... but do require a bit of planning.

36. Shave a stuffy!

Don't let the elves have all the fun this season. Coat a stuffed animal in shaving cream and wrap your elves' hands around the can. Make sure a razor is out of reach of tiny hands!

37. Let your elf Zoom with Santa.

Everyone is a pro at video messaging by now, so bring the fun to your elves with a simple printout and a laptop set-up.

38. Cirque du Elf-e.

Prep some stuffed animals, a DIY tent, a mini concession stand and a homemade trapeze to make this Cirque du Soleil-inspired scene come to life.

39. An imposter among us!

Make breakfast fun with some elf imposter oats. You'll need strawberries, an apple, blueberries, coconut, a little creativity and some patience to bring this one across the finish line.

40. Wrap it up!

It's time to bust out the wrapping paper and make the smallest room in your house one giant present. Not only is there a huge "wow-factor" for kids, but it can serve as décor for the remainder of the season.

41. Twist and shout!

Get all the stuffed animals involved in a homemade game of Twister. Aside from a homemade Twister board (colorfully placed dots on a piece of printer paper), this scene requires a few stuffed friends and a DIY spinner.

42. What's popping?

This is a mess worth making! Pop two or three bags of popcorn and use double sided tape to attach it to a long piece of wax paper. Sprinkle the rest on the floor just in time for wakeup and position the elves inside the microwave!

This example below does not feature the official Elf on the Shelf, but would be a cute idea to try with your very own North Pole emissary.

43. Ugly sweater party.

It's time for your make-believe crew to bust out their ugliest Christmas apparel. Doll clothes work well, or if you're feeling really inspired, knitting homemade sweaters for the whole party is a possibility.

44. A special breakfast selection.

Grab some cooked pasta, syrup and a collection of sugary sweets to bring this Elf on the Shelf scene together! The only thing you need to add is a homemade sign to pull off this play on Buddy the Elf’s favorite dinner from the Christmas movie “Elf.”

45. Pool and floaty required.

A tiny pool float will have your elf setting sail this season. While this one is most fun in a pool or hot tub, it would work in a sink or bathtub too.

46. Pucker up, elf!

A kissing booth? For elves? We love to see it! Prep a kissing booth cut-out from cardboard (or other sturdy paper) and sprinkle chocolate Hershey's Kisses candy once your elf is tucked inside.

47. The only acceptable chocolate droppings.

Chocolate chips and a DIY mini sign make this laugh-inducing reindeer poop scene a quick morning set-up. Bonus if you have reindeer décor around the house.

48. Splish splash, it’s time for a bath.

Blow up a couple of balloons and make the ultimate bubble bath for your North Pole visitors. If your elves wear clothes, make sure to put them over to the side prior to "jumping in!" If you don't have balloons, bubble bath liquid and filling the sink with DIY bubbles works, too.

49. M-elf-e Kalikimaka!

Take your elves straight to Hawaii with an enviable beach set-up complete with sand, tiny chairs, umbrellas and any mini sand toys you can find. The biggest obstacle might be wishing you could also be in Hawaii this season!

50. A little help here?

Get out the tape and get to work! Festive Christmas tape puts a delightful twist on this set-up, but any tape will work to pin your elf to the wall (or door) with a homemade sign.

51. Gone fishing!

It's time to go ice fishing ... in the toilet. Cover your toilet with plastic wrap, grab some Goldfish crackers and add some sugar to create the appearance of cracked ice. Your elf will need a fishing pole too!

52. On a roll!

Write some "punny" notes on toilet paper rolls and stack them on the back of the toilet, so the family can see them first thing in the morning. Bonus points, because this can be done pretty quickly!

53. Not your average church choir...

Get into the recycling bin to create a can choir for the kids this year! Bend each can halfway to create a torso and "legs" look, draw on faces and assemble an audience of elves.

54. Under...where?

If you've got laundry, you've got what you need to prep this silly scene. The kids will laugh out loud when they see their underwear draped all over the tree. Pro tip: Double check the laundry is clean.

55. Just a small elf sip.

Everyone knows an elf's favorite drink is syrup! Grab a straw and whatever kind of syrup might be in your pantry to make sure your family's visitor has their favorite seasonal sip.

56. When life imitates art.

Print the funniest human (or animal) body you can find and do a little peek-a-boo elf cutout. If you attempt a human body one day, maybe try an animal later in the month. We love a multi-use idea!

57. Where is the lie?

The pets can get involved in this year's elf games with some tape and a homemade sign. It helps if your pets want to pose beside their own hijinks for a morning photo!

58. This elf has us “Thinking Out Loud.”

A little "pun" never hurt anyone! Egg Sheeran needs some yarn hair, a mini guitar and, of course, a face. If stick-on eyes are too much, a marker works great too. The sign is the final touch for this refrigerator masterpiece.

59. ...And a family elf on a Christmas tree.

Walk down the steps and put the elf on the tree. No need to overthink this one!

60. Down the hall...or steps!

As you exit your bedroom, grab a roll of toilet paper. Pick up the elf from yesterday's spot, insert them into the T.P. and roll them down the hall or steps. Easy peasy!

61. Roller coaster time!

Make the household appliances a fun prop this year, especially if you're up against the clock. All you'll need is your elf, some tape and any rogue toy that's laying around. Tape the friends together with their arms up as if they're on the most epic ride ... inside your dryer!

62. These shoes were made for ... riding.

The shoes at the front door are likely piling up, so quickly put together a homemade shoe train for your elf to ride. Of course, the elf can go in the lead shoe and serve as the conductor.

63. Cuddle buddies.

Maybe the family pet thinks your elf is a toy — we will never tell. Pose them together when you hear the kids coming and your daily elf work is done!

64. Pause for an elf-ie.

Elves just want to have fun — and take selfies. Have the family elf take some funny selfies on your phone to share with the kids, or prop your phone up as they're padding down the hall in the morning as if the elf was caught in action.

65. Clean freak.

Finally, the family elf is pulling their weight around the house ... sort of. Put your Santa spy on an automatic vacuum and let them go for a short spin in the morning. No Roomba? No problem! Attach your elf to a mop, stand-up vacuum or broom.

66. A long winter's nap.

Need to quickly throw — err, put — the elf in its place? A baby doll bed, a dollhouse, a play kitchen, a bassinet ... these elves can find any nook to nap!

67. Stroll patrol.

It's time to take these dogs for a walk! Use pipe cleaners to make leashes for the tiniest paw patrol and prop the elf up against a house plant (as shown below) or any décor you've got handy.

68. A good reminder.

Take some lipstick and write a gentle reminder to the kids on the mirror. From the elf, of course. Another fun message might be: Don't forget to smile!

69. Flossy, flossy.

Whether your kids are flossing their teeth or doing a dance, this fun elf scene requires dental floss and a tiny sign. You'll get cool parent points for knowing how to floss!

70. A little mess never hurt anyone.

Nutella, peanut butter, jelly or jam is going to be your BFF for this fun set-up. Simply get them from the cupboard and let your elves "dive" in to this slightly messy — but simple — scene.

71. Just hanging out.

Tired parents rejoice! Put the elf between two picture frames or pieces of artwork in your home and call it a big win.

72. Ready to brew.

Have cup, will elf — or something like that. If you're running down the hallway at dawn realizing that the elf hasn't moved, put them in a coffee mug near the coffee pot and call it good.

73. Let there be light.

Never forget to look up, especially when it comes to finding the elf each day. At least once a week, hang your elf from a light fixture or fan.

74. SOS!

Grab a jar (or maybe a takeout container with a lid) and trap your elf inside with some candy worms. A quick, DIY sign finishes this easy elf setup.

75. Sipping on Vitamin C.

How does an elf get the right vitamins? They go right to the source, of course. Grab your elf, an orange and a straw — instant OJ for your little Santa spy and an easy scene for the kids to enjoy.

76. A cup of joy.

Whatever see-through cups you may have in the cupboard work well for this elf setup. Stuff your elf inside a cup or glass and leave the cabinet door open to make sure little eyes know there has been some mischief in the kitchen.

77. Chips, anyone?

No need to wrack your brain trying to get this one right — just raid the pantry. One potato, a grater and a handful of chips is all that is needed to make this chip-per scene come to life. Extra points for parents who can make the best worried potato face using a marker.

78. Into the refrigerator, you go.

Maybe the elf is helping pack your child's lunch, or maybe they're just waiting to get caught at breakfast. Whatever the case, wrapping your elf around a fridge item may just be the fastest way to pose it this season.

79. Taking it on the road!

Running out the door and remembering the elf hasn't been moved? Don't panic, we've got you. Put the elf on the dashboard of the car or affix them around the rearview mirror for a fun carpool drop-off (or pick-up) this season.

80. Total freeze.

Listen, it's only natural an elf would miss the polar weather this season while visiting. Throw them in the freezer and act surprised when the kids find him or her peeking out from behind the popsicles.

More family Christmas fun!

  • 75 clever Christmas jokes for kids
  • 70 Christmas trivia questions for kids
  • 17 Christmas vacation ideas for the perfect family getaway
  • 80 funny Christmas riddles and brainteasers that are full of holiday cheer

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What can you do with an elf simple? ›

You can also have the elf decorate the house or the tree in a silly manner with the kids clothing, underwear or with toilet paper. Decorating the bathroom with some tinsel or any other room in the house is another great easy option. Hang streamers from the fans all around the house.

What is Elf on the Shelf trend? ›

Elf on the Shelf is a popular tradition where families use a plush stuffed elf to “keep an eye” on children during the countdown to Christmas. The family elf gets a unique name and arrives between the day after Thanksgiving and Dec. 1.

What kind of things does Elf on the Shelf do? ›

Started by mother-daughter duo Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell, the Elf on the Shelf rules are simple: The Scout Elf watches over your family during the day, and then checks in with Santa each night to reveal who is being naughty and who is being nice. After these nightly trips, they return to a new spot each day.

What is the number 1 rule for Elf on the Shelf? ›

The Elf Must Not Be Touched

Considered the most important rule, the Scout Elf must never be touched (of course, apart from when the parents move them around) as that will cause them to lose their magical powers. In some cases, they could also disappear when touched, such as when a dog might get a hold of them.

What are the 3 rules in elf? ›

The Code of the Elves is three simple rules:
  • Treat every day like Christmas.
  • There's room for everyone on the nice list.
  • The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.
Dec 7, 2020

When should parents put out the Elf on the Shelf? ›

The Elf on the Shelf website recommends your Elf arrive between November 24 through December 1. This is also known as Scout Elf Return week, a.k.a. the time when Santa's little helpers flee the North Pole and head out to the houses they'll be staying at until Christmas.

How many Elf on the Shelf should you have? ›

Do I need one Elf per child or one per household? The choice is yours. We have included two Nice List Certificates and two Letters to Santa in each kit, as these items are personal. All the other items can be shared as a family.

Do parents move the Elf on the Shelf? ›

If little ones find their Scout Elf sitting on something they need to use, like relaxing in their sink, lying on their bookbag or hanging on their clothes, then it is okay for parents to move the elf, so kids can complete their morning routine and elves can get back to their important job!

What happens if your elf doesn't move? ›

Elves need to wait until everyone is asleep before they can move around. If there was too much activity around the house last night, perhaps your elf only had time to get to the North Pole and back, but not enough time to find a new position. Make sure you get to bed early tonight to help them out!

How did Elf on the Shelf become popular? ›

The Elf on the Shelf tradition started back in 2005 when Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, self-published the book “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition” along with a special box with a small Scout Elf inside.

Do parents move The Elf on the Shelf? ›

If little ones find their Scout Elf sitting on something they need to use, like relaxing in their sink, lying on their bookbag or hanging on their clothes, then it is okay for parents to move the elf, so kids can complete their morning routine and elves can get back to their important job!

When did Elf on the Shelf become so popular? ›

The doll-based holiday game became so popular that in 2008 The Elf on the Shelf Boy doll earned a Best Toy Award from Learning Express Toys – a specialty toy and game retailer. Other awards and accolades for the doll and book came from iParenting Media, USA Book News and Creative Child that year.

What is Elf on the Shelf about and do bad things? ›

According to US child psychologist Dr Vanessa Lapointe, the whole concept of the Elf on the Shelf tradition, where the elf pretty much spies on your kids and reports on their behaviour to Santa, could be rather harmful to children's mental health.


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