Is It Too Late To Start Elf On The Shelf?

Nah. Here’s how to pull it off gracefully.

by Cat Bowen
Originally Published: 
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It's that time of year again: Everyone and their sister is posting pictures of the cute things their elves are doing. This year, you were going to win the elf battle, but now it's already a few days (okay, maybe weeks) into December and you forgot. Is it too late for Elf on the Shelf, or can you start well into the month, after Scout Welcome Back week?

Let me put this kindly, but bluntly: It's a toy that you're pretending is a Christmas elf from the North Pole that comes alive at night like in the 1987 horror movie Mannequin. Sure, the official "Elf Return Week" is between Thanksgiving and the first couple of days of December, but really, it's not a big deal to start a little late. Also, the elf is supposed to be known for causing trouble and getting into all sorts of shenanigans, right? Who's to say that little Timbit — or whatever your elf's name is — didn't decide to sightsee on their way to your house? What if they’re just tardy?

There are all sorts of reasons I can come up with for why your elf got to your house late: Because the stupid box they were in was buried beneath a pile of abandoned fitted sheets you never use, because you're still scraping rotten pumpkins off the porch, because you shoved them in last year's wrapping paper tube and it somehow made its way to the recycling during Easter, etc.

The quick n’ easy way to start Elf on the Shelf late (or after the official Elf Return Week) is to simply prop Elfie one morning and print out an “official” Elf on the shelf late arrival letter. This one from Etsy can be immediately downloaded and printed for a cool $3.

But if you need another reason to tell the kids (although they'll probably never notice Jingles wasn't right on time), here are my suggestions:

  • They took a trip to Vegas, spent all their money on buffets, and had to call their friend Buddy to get airfare. Buddy was busy having coffee with his wife.
  • They decided to drive to your house, only to realize their car wasn't seaworthy, and they had to hitch a ride on a narwhal tusk.
  • Their layover in Denver got delayed because of the bomb cyclone over the holiday. You can print a fake boarding ticket and everything.
  • They did not finish Their homework on time, and had to stay back at the North Pole because their block work was not up to par. Truth be told, their brother Jimbit's towers are still better, and they’re feeling pretty down about it. I suggest cocoa.
  • Your elf is a top secret spy acting as a double agent for the Tooth Fairy. Santa is tired of the creepy supernatural tooth taker, and wants them put out of business. He has Timbit working to infiltrate the operation, but Timbit likes the art that the Tooth Fairy produces with the teeth and her composting efforts (teeth have so much calcium), so they’re feeding Santa misinformation while learning how to use teeth to power batteries. (This one is especially good if any of your kids have loose teeth.)
  • Their sense of direction is absolutely terrible. They read "Cleveland, Ohio," and ended up in Cleveland, Mississippi. They spent a week learning how to spell Mississippi so that they could Uber to your place.
  • Turns out, their North Pole smartphone doesn't support ride sharing applications for cars — the reindeer unionized and rallied against it. But without Santa, reindeer have no idea where they're going. Dancer took them to somewhere in Canada that "smelled familiar." Apparently they has a cousin on a farm there.
  • They started reading The Goldfinch because they wanted to finish it before watching the movie. They didn't realize it was so long, or they would have started it sooner. Since the book was from the library in the North Pole, they couldn't take it all the way to North Carolina without risking serious late fees.
  • They were at your house the whole time, unsure they were in the right place because the kids have grown so much in the past year. They're so much taller and know so much more. If it wasn't for the parents, they would have left.
  • They had some official Santa business they had to deal with — no need to disclose what the details are.

No matter how you do it, the kids will love the whole thing. The experience is what's important — not when it starts.

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