an elf on the shelf perched on a decorated christmas tree with lights.

These 17 Elf On The Shelf Return Ideas Are Super Cute & Stress-Free

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 his 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 17 Elf on the Shelf return ideas can give the little red guy 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 he shows up, one thing is for certain: you want to make his 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 him once again. Otherwise, you’re in for a lot of disappointment — and 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 return tips 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 her lunchbox in her backpack, and she’ll discover her Elf already in there. It just might be the encouragement she 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.


Coming Down The Chimney

If you have a chimney or a fireplace, you can always have your Elf appear to be coming down from it. You can tell your child that your Elf learned his 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, he’ll be happy to find his favorite Elf ready to report for duty. Bonus points if you can find a mini suitcase to accompany him.


Hanging Out With The Other Toys

Look, the Elf has a job, but the guy can’t be all work and no play. 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

The Elf is a busy guy and he’s got reports to enter. So place your Elf on the keyboard to make it look like he’s actually typing up some info to send to Santa. Maybe your child will be motivated to do his math homework, too.


In The Car

When your kid gets into his car seat, he’ll be so excited to see his Elf on the Shelf already sitting in his cup holder. 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. He can explain to your child that the Elf is there to help him out, and it’s a great way to start the holiday season.


Have Him 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

You might not have time to decorate an entire tree prior to your Elf's arrival, but you can always take out an ornament (such as a wreath or a star) and have your Elf attached to it.


In The Bathroom

Kids love potty jokes, and they might get a good giggle out of catching their Elf in the act of trying to do No. 2. (Plus, if you have a kid whose toilet training isn’t going too well, this might inspire him to ditch his diaper for good.) Another option: Give him a marshmallow bubble bath in the sink, as seen above.


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.


Watching TV

Your Elf can be catching up on classics like "A Christmas Story" or "It’s a Wonderful Life". Or, he just might be marathon-watching Hallmark’s Countdown To Christmas movies.


In The Fridge

Imagine your child’s surprise when she opens the fridge and finds her Elf sitting next to the eggnog. Only time will tell if the holiday drink is spiked or not and if your Elf is inebriated.


On A Bookshelf

Your Elf is an avid bookworm, didn’t you know? Encourage your own reluctant reader to open a book and read 'Twas The Night Before Christmas together as a family.


On A Shelf

It’s obvious, but that’s his name, after all. So stick him 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.