Elf on the Shelf

What is ‘The Elf on the Shelf’? Are you interested in getting one for your child? Or do you sometimes wish you didn’t have one? We offer 12 elf on the shelf ideas as well as some practical advice for this popular Christmas tradition.

Published: 1 Dec 2020 Last Updated: 1 Nov 2023

I honestly thought every parent knew about ‘The Elf on the Shelf’ but whilst talking about Christmas traditions on a work call, it turned out a colleague (who has children) didn’t know what it was!

I was amazed (and slightly envious) that she hadn’t come across this relatively modern Christmas tradition.

If, like her, you’d like to know more, take a look at my tips and tricks, or if you’re already in the elf-sphere perhaps we can help take some of the mental load out of the elf-shelf-brain drain.

What is The Elf on the Shelf?

It’s a new-ish tradition where children host one of Santa’s scout elves for the festive season. They report back to Santa, helping him manage his naughty/nice list and move each night to a new spot in your home, waiting to be found.


As if having the elf just appear in different places each morning wasn’t enough, somehow, they started doing silly, crafty or funny things. The more extreme the better, (or at least that’s what my two girls think!)

Making snow angels in flour, unravelling the toilet roll down the stairs, even eating one of their Christmas calendar chocolates, the elf in our house is pretty naughty, and my girls love it. They delight in telling their grandparents and friends what their elf has been up to.

The idea has also evolved into lessons of ‘what not to do’. In teaching the elf how to be good, it encourages children to do the same. My girls are very quick to point out when our elf has been naughty or made a mess, and they even sometimes help to clean it up!


However, while the belief that the elf comes alive at night and does all these silly things is fun for some children, it isn’t for everyone. Some friends’ children were pretty scared of theirs, and to be honest, the idea of this slightly sinister-looking toy coming alive at night while you’re sleeping could understandably be pretty frightening for little ones.

If you think your son or daughter might be worried about it, maybe give it a wide berth. 

Inspiration and Ideas

(*WARNING* – this ‘elf business’ is not for the faint-hearted! If you do decide to get one, be prepared for late night Pinterest or Google searches for ideas and inspiration year after year!)

In all honesty, I find the whole thing a bit of a chore, but the reason our elf comes back each year is for the joy it brings my children. They have already been asking if our elf will still be able to come this year and I must admit, I am seriously considering having him arrive in an ‘isolation jar’! Ten days of not having to come up with ideas for silly/naughty things to have him do is pretty tempting…

For those of you who have an elf or who are thinking of getting one this year, here are 12 of my girls’ favourite ‘Elf Antics’:

  • Toilet Roll Snowman. Stack 3 toilet rolls on top of each other and draw or stick a face, buttons and scarf on them. You could be even more creative and put your little one’s hat on top!
  • ‘Eggcellent’ Eggs. Draw smiley faces on your eggs and have your elf sit with a pen on his lap next to them. Alternatively, as a treat, replace the eggs with Kinder ones.
  • Story Time. Sit your elf with one of your children’s books in his lap and have a semi-circle of teddies around him listening to the story.
  • Fruity Friends. Stick googly eyes on all of the fruit in your fruit bowl and sit your elf in with his new friends.
  • Ketchup Santa. Squeeze out ketchup and mayonnaise in the shape of a Santa hat and have your elf sitting next to the masterpiece with the sauces.
  • All Wrapped Up. Wrap your child’s shoes in cling film and sit your elf on top. When they go to put them on they will have to unwrap them first.
  • Time to Brush your Teeth. Squirt some toothpaste on your child’s toothbrush as well making some mess with it around your sink, then sit the tube and toothbrush on your elf’s lap.
  • Cheerios Necklace. You will need a pipe cleaner and some ‘hoop’ cereal, such as Cheerios. Thread some Cheerios onto the pipe cleaner and make it look as is the elf has made a necklace.
  • ‘Shoe-Shoe’ Train. Turn lots of your family’s shoes into a train and snake them one after another in your hallway. Sit the elf sat in the one at the front with a sign that says “All aboard the shoe-shoe- train!”
  • Pants Party. Hang several pairs of your little one’s pants or nappies on the Christmas tree along with your elf, who could be wearing a pair too!
  • Snow Angels. Sprinkle flour on your kitchen worktop or table and have your elf lie in it, flap his/her arms and legs and make a snow angel. Leave for your children to find.
  • Time for bed. Using a rectangular box of tissue, cut the hole in the top a bigger hole so that the elf can fit in. Use a few tissues to make a pillow and one for his duvet.

Top Tip

Remember to move your elf before getting into bed! There have been so many nights I have got into bed, turned the light out and then thought, “Oh no, the Elf!” Set a reminder on your phone if you have to – believe me, coming up with a valid excuse or plausible theory first thing in the morning can be pretty challenging!

A new Christmas tradition or just an added chore, you decide!

I may complain about running out of ideas, but I have to admit, I do often go to bed chuckling to myself when I have come up with a particularly funny ‘elf antic’ that I know my girls will enjoy! I wouldn’t go so far as recommending The Elf on the Shelf, but it does definitely add a bit of cheery Christmas magic to our December mornings – something we might all benefit from this year. 

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