an elf on the shelf perched on a decorated christmas tree with lights.
These 20 Elf On The Shelf Return Ideas Are Super Cute & Stress-Free

It’s that time of year again!

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For young children, seeing their own Elf on the Shelf is the official start to the holiday season. So naturally there needs to be a little pomp and circumstance surrounding their annual return, but you also don’t want to spend a ton of time taking what is essentially a doll out of its box, either. These 20 Elf on the Shelf ideas can give the little red guy or gal a welcoming that’s worthy of Santa — and won’t be stressful, either.

Timing is everything when it comes to the Elf's return. You can either have him come home right after the Thanksgiving dishes are done — or you can, um, have your Elf be a little tardy for the party and appear a few days before Christmas. No matter when they show up, one thing is for certain: you want to make their entrance magical and memorable, not like, “Oh, there’s that stupid Elf mixed in with all the broken tree lights from last year.”

That’s why you should time your Elf’s arrival to when your kids aren’t around (or awake), so that it’s a pleasant surprise to see them once again. Otherwise, you’re in for a lot of disappointment — and potentially a whole lot of questions regarding Santa Claus that you might not be prepared to answer. To avoid any issues, try one of these Elf on the Shelf come back ideas, and start the holiday season right.


At Breakfast

Your Elf can always be wolfing down his waffle when your child makes it to the breakfast table. They can catch up on everything that’s happened since they saw each other last year, and maybe your Elf can spill some secrets on Mr. C., too.


In Her Book Bag

Ask your child to put their lunchbox in their backpack, and they might discover their Elf already in there. Tuck a bookmark under the Elf’s arms to show that they’ve been keeping up with their own schoolwork, too, like learning how to fly. Hey, it just might be the encouragement your child needs to head off to school that day.


On The Family Pet

You might need to clear it with your woofie first, but strapping your Elf to your dog’s collar is a cute way to reintroduce your Elf to the fam. Imagine how excited your child will be when your dog bounds into the room — and your Elf is hanging on for dear life. To make it even more festive, you might want to add some tinsel to your pooch’s collar.


Coming Down The Chimney

Your Elf can have an entrance… or they can have an entrance. Pose your Elf doing their own impersonation of Santa Claus by making them appear to be coming down from a chimney or fireplace. For this, you’ll need some string that you’ll attach to the Elf and secure to the fireplace. You can tell your child that your Elf learned their chimney-descending moves from Santa himself.


Attached To The Door

Let your kiddo catch the Elf trying to come in through the front door. Someone (wink wink) can pretend to knock, and when your child opens the door, they’ll be happy to find their favorite Elf ready to report for duty. Bonus points if you can find a mini suitcase to accompany your Elf.


Hanging Out With The Other Toys

Sure, the Elf has a job, but they can’t be all work and no play, either. Your child might find his Elf bulldozing a block of Legos, or hanging out in Barbie's Dreamhouse. It’s called work-life balance, and your Elf aspires to it.


At His Desk

Yes, it looks like he sits around all day doing nothing, but you won’t find a harder worker than the Elf on the Shelf. The Elf is a total team player, after all, and they’ve got reports to enter. So place your Elf on your computer keyboard to make it look like they’re actually typing up some info to send to Santa. Maybe your child will be motivated to do their math homework, too.


In The Car

When your kid gets into his car seat, they’ll be so excited to see their Elf on the Shelf already sitting pretty in their cup holder. From taking your kiddo to school or fun family road trips on the weekends, it can be the start of many great adventures together in the weeks leading up to Christmas.


Next To The Phone

Place your Elf on the Shelf next to your phone and have “Santa” call or text. Mr. C. can explain to your child that the Elf is there to help him out, acting as his scout to see who’s been nice (and who’s been naughty). It’s a great way to start the holiday season, but just be prepared in case your kiddo asks how Santa got your phone number… before your child gets yours.


Have Him Delivered

We won’t even speak about the fact that the Amazon truck is always in your driveway. So use up all that Prime packaging you have by pretending to have your Elf delivered. Put your Elf in a box with festive tissue paper, seal it with tape, and address it from The North Pole. Then, have your kids open it up to welcome your Elf — and the festivities to come.


On A Holiday Decoration

Depending on when you start to set up your Christmas tree, you might not have time to totally decorate it prior to your Elf's arrival. That shouldn’t stop you from being festive, though. You can always take out an ornament (such as a wreath or a star) and have your Elf attached to it.


In The Bathroom

Your Elf has come a long way, and they might need to feel refreshed by taking a bath before seeing your child. Thing is, it might be traumatic for your child to see their Elf spinning in the washing machine with other unmentionables, so stick them in their own tub instead. If you don’t want to use water, you can always let them soak in a bubble bath made of marshmallows or other candies.


Hanging Out At Thanksgiving

For early birds (ha), you can always announce your Elf’s return at Thanksgiving. You can dress him up with some feathers, stick him next to his bud, Turkey On a Table, or have him help “serve” dessert. Your Elf’s entrance just might upstage the real turkey dinner.


Watching TV

Although you might think that your Elf sits there blithely on the shelf, they’re actually watching tons of Christmas movies. It should be no surprise, then, that when your Elf is first spotted by your kiddos, they’re catching up on classics like "A Christmas Story" or "It’s a Wonderful Life". Or, they just might be marathon-watching Hallmark’s Countdown To Christmas movies.


In The Fridge

Imagine your child’s surprise when they open the fridge for chocolate milk and find their Elf sitting next to the eggnog. Only time will tell if the holiday drink was spiked or not — and if your Elf is inebriated.


On A Bookshelf

Among your Elf’s many passions is reading. So if your Elf is an avid bookworm, you can encourage your own reluctant reader to open a book and read 'Twas The Night Before Christmas together as a family.



If you want to give your child the giggles, talk about butts. Seriously. It’s like a universal kid code for constant giggling. So if you’re struggling with Elf on the Shelf return ideas that rock, pretend that your Elf is pooping. Place a Hershey Kiss at the bottom of a glass jar, and position your Elf so that they’re sitting on the top. Bowel movements have never been so funny.


Hot Air Balloon

As your child gets older, they might start to wonder how the Elf really travels from the North Pole to your home (uhh, Christmas magic, of course). But in case they want a visual, all you need to do is blow up a hot air balloon. That’s right: simply inflate a balloon and attach some seasonal ribbon at the base. Tape strings to a small cup, and then attach the “basket” of your hot air balloon. You can hang it from your front doorway so that your child will get to see their Elf arrive.


Snuggled In Bed

Sometimes, you can come up with elaborate ways to celebrate your Elf’s return, or you can just sweetly tuck them in with your child at night. Your child will wake up with the worst case of morning breath… and a huge smile when they see their Elf snoozing on the pillow next to them.


On A Shelf

It’s obvious, but that’s their name, after all. So stick your doll on a shelf and call it a day. No muss, no fuss. You’re welcome.

Whether you love or loathe the little guy, the Elf on the Shelf can definitely be an important part of the holidays, particularly for your kids. So welcome him with open arms — and stuff him back in the box with all the other holiday decorations later.

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