I don’t remember exactly how my husband and I started the Elf on the Shelf tradition with our oldest daughter — she just woke up one day and an elf was here sitting next to a book. She was 100% invested in the magic from the beginning, but I used to panic a bit when we would see a display of Elf on the Shelf boxes at Target. How do you explain finding Elf on the Shelf in stores or seeing them sold in boxes to a kid who fully believes that the scout elves live in the North Pole and fly to their house each night?
As with most Elf on the Shelf questions, the brand website for the Christmas tradition answers this one pretty beautifully. While there’s no specific “here’s a script to follow if your kid sees a pyramid of Elf on the Shelf boxes at Walmart” section, the Elf on the Shelf website refers to the stores where you can buy them as Adoption Centers. Since the entire premise behind the Elf on the Shelf is that you “adopt” an elf for your family from the North Pole, it’s easy to explain to your kids that the elves come in boxes, you take one home, and then you formally adopt it from there.
Here are some other things to reassure your child when they see a giant stack of Elf on the Shelf boxes in the stores:
- Yes, the scout elves can breathe in those boxes.
- Not every store has Elf on the Shelf because not every store is a certified Elf Adoption Center.
- Santa sends the elves into stores so they can keep an eye on the toys and gift ideas kids are most excited about.
- The box is a fun way to “hold” and carry the elf around without ever touching them.
- Santa sends the elves into stores so they can get acclimated to weather outside of the North Pole.
- Santa sends the elves into stores so they have a practice run of flying to and from the North Pole without getting lost.
- It’s called Elf on the Shelf for a reason — Santa gives them some shelf-sitting practice by sending them into stores.
There are also now tons of Elf on the Shelf accessories to buy in stores — everything from outfits to pets — and you can explain those in a similar way. You’re just buying a gift for your scout elf, and you can leave it out for them and find them wearing the items or playing with their new toys the next morning. No need to touch them to make sure their new accessories are used.
Now once you’ve explained the display shelves of Elf on the Shelf and your family has bought one, what do you do when it’s time to take the elf out of the box? You’re not supposed to touch the Elf on the Shelf or else they’ll lose their magic, but you could let your kids know that the magic doesn’t start until you officially read the book and formally adopt your scout elf. If it works for your family, you could then remove the elf from the packaging and set it somewhere in the house, officially starting the “don’t touch” part from there.
If touching the elf in any way freaks you out (me too), you can just leave the elf inside the box and start the tradition anyway. Luckily, the packaging for the Elf on the Shelf makes this incredibly easy. The book is on one side of the box while the scout elf is on the other side. You can take the book out, read it to your family, name the elf (there’s a spot in the back of the book to record the name and when you start this tradition), and then just leave the box alone. The next morning, your elf will have flown out of the box and made their home somewhere in your house, ready to spend the holiday season with you.
As with most magical moments, it’s best not to overthink it. My oldest daughter, who was just 3 the year our Elf on the Shelf joined our family, is 9 now and recently spotted a huge display of the elves at our local store. I worried seeing them all piled up like toys would dilute the magic for her, but she simply glanced at them, looked back at me and said, “Huh. I guess the magic doesn’t start until you take them home. That works.”
That works, indeed.
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