Funny, Creative Elf on the Shelf® Ideas Kids Will Love

Christmas is coming, and Santa Claus's Scout Elves are coming to get their final tallies for the nice list. Learn more about the history of Elf on the Shelf® and how to play, plus get fun and crafty Elf on the Shelf® pose ideas to re-create at home.

Keep in mind: Price and stock could change after publish date, and we may make money from these affiliate links.
A toy elf on a table with marshmallows and a tiny hot cocoa mug

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: A Hot Chocolate Station With Elf-Sized Cup

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Each night, after kids are in bed, parents move the elf into different poses. The elf made a small marshmallow mess as it prepared for a hot chocolate party.

Photo by: Yasmin Murphy

Yasmin Murphy

Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition® by Carol V. Aebersold and Chanda Bell became an almost-instant hit when it first appeared in 2005. Now, millions of families worldwide are involved in a hide-and-seek game with an elf who gets itself into some precarious situations as it determines who is on Santa's nice list. Here's everything you need to know about the ubiquitous elf and its holiday mischief.

What Is Elf on the Shelf®?

Mother-daughter duo Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell wrote Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition® in 2005. The children’s book tells the story of a Scout Elf who comes from the North Pole to see who is on the naughty or nice list. The Elf on the Shelf® was something Aebersold did for her own daughters when they were children, and it was based on a Scandinavian legend about house elves who helped out with the chores and protected their families.

Where to Buy Elf on the Shelf® and Elf on the Shelf® Accessories

You can buy Elf on the Shelf® at Amazon or at Target, Walmart or Barnes & Noble. If you need accessories for Elf on the Shelf® or tiny props to set the scene, Elf on the Shelf's official storefront makes several outfits, costumes and accessories. Several makers on Etsy also have your back with props to bring your Elf on the Shelf® poses to life.

$31.48

Elf on the Shelf® comes with an Elf Scout in your selected skin tone and the storybook, all encased in a collectible storage box.

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$10.80

This laugh-out-loud costume for your Scout Elf comes complete with scarf, glasses and standing gear. Craft eggnog not included.

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How To Play Elf on the Shelf®

You’ll need to “adopt” an elf from the store. Options include both male and female elves in different skin tones. Each elf comes in a keepsake box and with a storybook explaining why the elf is there and what he or she does during the Christmas season. Each family gets to choose their elf’s name.

There are few “rules” to the game. The biggest rule is that kids cannot, under any circumstances, touch the elf, or it ruins the magic, and the elf doesn’t move anymore. (Of course, if the elf does get touched, you can always suggest your kids draw a picture for Santa so he will restore the elf’s magic by morning.)

A toy elf and stuffed moose in a wooden basket below a paper lantern

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: Hot Air Balloon

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Each night, after kids are in bed, parents move the elf into different poses. Make a hot air balloon by securing a paper lantern to a wooden basket.

Photo by: Brittney Gazaway

Brittney Gazaway

The second rule is that the elf must return to the North Pole on Christmas Eve to give its final report to Santa Claus. The next morning, kids on the nice list wake up to presents under the tree.

Some elves “arrive” at their homes right after Thanksgiving, while others don’t show up till Dec. 1 or a little after. You can write an elaborate arrival letter or just go with a tiny, DIY letter board.


Each night, after kids go to sleep, adults get to choose a new Elf on the Shelf® pose. Get creative! Elves can play tricks on the children and pets, get into mischief, or even appear with supplies for a family movie night. Some families go all out and even buy different clothes for their elves.

A toy elf in a small toy bathtub in a dollhouse.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: Using the Dollhouse Bathtub

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Each night, after the kids are in bed, parents move the elf into different poses. The elf took a bath in a dollhouse bathtub.

Photo by: Yasmin Murphy

Yasmin Murphy

What should you do if you forget to move your elf? In short, tell a white lie. Santa will forgive you. Explanations include that the elf really loved yesterday's spot, the elf was busy all night helping Santa and didn't have time to move, or he or she is working on an extra-special surprise for the next day.

Creative Elf on the Shelf® Poses for 2022

The possibilities for elven shenanigans are endless, but we have compiled a list of our favorite Elf on the Shelf® poses:

1. Reap What You Sow

Use some felt to make your elf an apron and some veggies for a little off-season gardening in a flowerpot. Mix it up by having your elf farm in other containers, like a casserole dish on the kitchen counter or in somebody's boot.

A toy elf in an apron holds a shovel and a felt carrot.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: Farmer Elf

HGTV TRENDING TOPICS: ELF ON THE SHELF

Photo by: Brittney Gazaway

Brittney Gazaway

2. Full of Hot Air

A wicker basket, a paper lantern and a few accessories make for an adorable elf scene. Hang the paper lantern wherever you like, and then secure the basket to the lantern for the hot air balloon effect.

A toy elf and stuffed moose in a wooden basket below a paper lantern

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: Hot Air Balloon

HGTV TRENDING TOPICS: ELF ON THE SHELF

Photo by: Brittney Gazaway

Brittney Gazaway

3. Chain Reactions

Make some tiny paper chains so your elf can get in on the decorating game.

A toy elf holds the end of a long paper chain with tiny links.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: Paper Chain Decorating

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Have your elf make a tiny paper chain garland to decorate its own Christmas scene.

Photo by: Sarah Busby

Sarah Busby

4. Charcuterie Elf

If elves made their own charcuterie boards, you can guarantee they would be made of candy. This elf scene comes with its own snack for grownups!

Photo by: Sarah Busby

Sarah Busby

5. Knot So Fast

Set your elf up with some yarn for a tiny knitting session. Can't knit? No problem — have your elf hold the knitting needles and make a mess of the yarn for another mischievous elf idea.

A toy elf holding two tiny knitting needles knits a long green scarf.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: Knitting A Scarf

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Each night, after kids are in bed, parents move the elf into different poses. Have your elf knit a scarf for one of the day's scenes.

Photo by: Sarah Busby

Sarah Busby

6. Gift Wrap Elf

Santa's helpers have their own wrapping to do! Wrap up small boxes with wrapping paper to pile around your elf to show just how busy it has been gathering presents this year.

A toy elf poses with several small, wrapped Christmas presents.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: The Scout Elf Wraps Presents

HGTV TRENDING TOPICS: ELF ON THE SHELF

Photo by: Brittney Gazaway

Brittney Gazaway

7. Cotton Candy Elf

This elf idea is super versatile — leave it very basic where your elf has a snack alone or set up an entire cotton candy store manned by your elf that offers human-sized portions of the real candy to your kids. Make the fake cotton candy out of pink cotton balls coated in glue and then covered in glitter.

Two two elves with tiny cotton candy cones.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: Cotton Candy

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Make elven-sized cotton candy by brushing glue onto a pink cotton ball and then rolling it in glitter before securing it on a small paper cone.

Photo by: Sarah Busby

Sarah Busby

8. Sledding On In

This is a great option for your elf's arrival day. Make an old-fashioned sled out of candy canes and twine and write, "I'm back!" in fake snow. If this is your first year doing Elf on the Shelf, you could also write, "Hello!" Use this pose on other days with phrases like "Let's Sled," "Merry Christmas" and "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?"

An elf on a candy cane sled rides through fake snow.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: Sledding On Home

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Each night, after the kids are in bed, parents move the elf into different poses. Sledding through a snow scene is a great first day pose for your elf.

Photo by: Yasmin Murphy

Yasmin Murphy

9. The Last-Minute Shopper

With a set of printables, you can make your own tiny packing boxes to make it appear like your elf went wild with the credit card and ordered way too many Christmas presents.

Buy the printables and DIY this shopaholic-elf scene at home with this kit from mumsgotmojo on Etsy.

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10. Taking "Advent"age

Grab an advent calendar full of chocolates and let your elf "destroy" it by eating all the candy. This is a great chance to get some extra candy for yourself. A win-win in our book!

Oxted, Surrey, UK - December 21 2019 - Naught Elf on the shelf eating Reeses pieces from an advent calendar

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Oxted, Surrey, UK - December 21 2019 - Naught Elf on the shelf eating Reeses pieces from an advent calendar

Photo by: Shutterstock; Matthew Talboys

Shutterstock; Matthew Talboys

11. Rockin’ Around the Record Player

Set your elf up with a record player and a Christmas album. Press play and have your child walk in to find the elf spinning away.

A toy elf dressed as a DJ sits on a record player.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: A Christmas Dance Party

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Each night, after the kids are in bed, parents move the elf into different poses. This DJ elf is set up to ride the record player like its a merry-go-round as it blasts out a favorite Christmas album.

Photo by: Yasmin Murphy

Yasmin Murphy

12. Away in a Tangle

Tie your elf up in knots under the guise of "decorating." Getting snagged in the lights is a great last-minute Elf on the Shelf® idea if you forget to move the elf.

A toy elf wrapped in Christmas lights hangs upside down in a tree.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: The Elf Gets Tangled While Decorating the Tree

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Each night, after kids are in bed, parents move the elf into different poses. Getting the elf tangled in the Christmas tree lights is an easy, last-minute pose.

Photo by: Yasmin Murphy

Yasmin Murphy

13. Elf-Sized Tree Decorating

Set up a mini tree decorating scene and let your child and the Scout Elf get in on the action. Colorful craft supplies like mini pom-poms make for perfect pint-sized decorations.

A toy self sits on a miniature faux Christmas tree.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: Decorating an elf-sized Christmas tree

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Each night, after kids are in bed, parents move the elf into different poses. This elf is set up to let kids decorate a small, elf-sized Christmas tree with pompoms, ribbon and paint.

Photo by: Yasmin Murphy

Yasmin Murphy

14. Crafty Christmas Card Station

Get the elf involved with Christmas cards! Simply set up a Christmas card writing station complete with stickers, stamps, cards and craft supplies. Let your child's imagination run wild under the supervision of the elf.

15. Hot Chocolate Party

On a chilly December day, nothing sounds better than a warm hot chocolate with all the fixings. Set up all the supplies and make a small marshmallow mess to blame on the elf. Don't forget a tiny cup so Santa's agent can enjoy their own hot chocolate!

16. Help!

Stuff your elf into a clear ornament to make it a bit more challenging to find. As an added bonus, it can't get tangled up in the Christmas lights if it's trapped in a bubble!

Putting your Elf Scout into a Christmas tree ornament could be how you introduce your elf for the season, package it for Santa or Christmas eve, or how you set it up for one of the mornings you're playing the game.

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17. Magical Movie Night

Set your elf up with supplies for a movie night. Your child can't touch the elf, but he or she can settle in for a Christmas movie. Place a mini marquee nearby to make the night feel extra special, and the elf can settle into some comfy pajamas before snacking on popcorn.

18. Baking Christmas Cookies

Make a bit of a mess with flour and sprinkles so your elf can start a batch of sugar cookies. Then, you can come to the rescue as the super-parent who saves the recipe and makes cookies with your kids.

A toy elf holds a tiny green bowl with flour and sprinkles.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: The Scout Elf Bakes Christmas Cookies

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Each night, after kids are in bed, parents move the elf into different poses. This elf made a mess of Christmas cookie ingredients.

Photo by: Yasmin Murphy

Yasmin Murphy

19. You Shall Not Pass

Tape some Christmas crepe streamers across your child's bedroom door to "trap" your child inside when they get up in the morning.

A child stands in a doorway with red and green streamers across it.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: The Elf 'Traps' A Child In Her Room

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Each night, after the kids are in bed, parents move the elf into different poses. This elf used crepe paper streamers to "trap" a child in her room.

Photo by: Yasmin Murphy

Yasmin Murphy

20. Gone to the Dogs

Get your dog in on the fun. You can set the scene so it appears that the elf planned to leave cookies for Santa Claus but only found dog bones. You can also take it as an opportunity for another instance of elven mischief that benefits nobody but the family dog.

An Elf on the Shelf® sits on a table while a large dog eats treats.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: The Elf Leaves Out Treats for the Dog

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Each night, after the kids are in bed, parents move the elf into different poses. This elf left out treats for the family dog.

Photo by: Yasmin Murphy

Yasmin Murphy

21. sElfie Station

Your elf can snap a few "elfies" for keepsakes before returning to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Set up an adorably festive background for the photos, and capture some Christmas memories with an instant camera.

An elf sits on a table with an instant camera and holiday-themed props

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: The Elf Sets Up A Selfie Station

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Each night, after the kids are in bed, parents move the elf into different poses. This elf is ready to take selfies with an instant camera.

Photo by: Yasmin Murphy

Yasmin Murphy

22. Summer Dreams

Yes, elves live in the North Pole, but who's to say they don't love the beach as much as the rest of us? Find one of those drink floats you keep with the summer gear, and set your elf up for fun in the sun.

Just because the Elf on the Shelf® is a modern Christmas tradition, not all of its scenes have to be holiday or winter themed. A drink float, doll sunglasses and a cocktail umbrella will prepare your elf to soak up the sun.

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23. Bon Voyage!

Send your elf off to the North Pole with dreams of a tropical vacation once all the presents are delivered.

A toy elf on a small float in a bathtub with a goodbye postcard.

Elf on the Shelf ® Poses: The Elf Floats Away For The Season

Elf on the Shelf ® is a game played at Christmastime where a Scout Elf visits from the North Pole to see who made Santa's nice list. Each night, after the kids are in bed, parents move the elf into different poses. The elf's final pose happens on Christmas Eve when he or she leaves a note about heading back to the North Pole to get ready for Christmas the next day.

Photo by: Yasmin Murphy

Yasmin Murphy

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12 Elf on the Shelf® Ideas
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Elf on the Shelf® Alternatives

There are several alternatives to Elf on the Shelf® if moving an elf around each night doesn’t seem like your cup of holiday cheer.

Mensch on a Bench was a Hannukah character originally introduced on Shark Tank in 2014. Mensch is a Yiddish word for someone who has integrity and honor. The original mensch was packaged with a storybook, a bench and a menorah. It can be hard to track one down, but there are several Mensch accessories — as well as the book — available.

$29.99

Mensch on a Bench is a Hannakuh alternative to Elf on the Shelf® that comes with a bench and menorah.

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Santa’s Lazy Gnome is perfect for busy families or parents who are certain they’d forget to move Elf on the Shelf®. The gnome comes with its own book and chills on the mantel to keep an eye on things until Christmas Eve with nothing further required.

$29.99

Santa's Lazy Gnome isn't nearly as active as Elf on the Shelf®. This gnome is content to sit in one spot during the holidays and watch over your family without making a mess.

Buy It

North Pole Ninjas is a book by Tyler Knott Gregson that includes a small sensei elf and 50 kindness tasks for newly recruited Christmas ninjas to choose from during the holiday season.

$18.33

North Pole Ninjas is a Christmas tradition that assigns random acts of kindness to newly recruited Christmas ninjas.

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Shiraz on the Shelf is a tongue-in-cheek “game” for parents to play. It comes with a swear word-laden poem about the tasks that fall to parents during the holiday, as well as a wineglass so you can relax after you’ve set up another elaborate scene for your elf.

$33.45

This Christmas tradition is for parents only — after moving the Elf on the Shelf®, enjoy a glass of wine.

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