Your Elf on the Shelf's Visit Has an Expiration Date — but When Is It?

When does Elf on the Shelf leave? The holiday tradition has some rules to follow, but some families have their own customs they stick to.

Chrissy Bobic - Author

Dec. 21 2022, Published 9:19 a.m. ET

Whether you go hard on your Elf on the Shelf shenanigans or you’re more of a laid-back parent when it comes to setting up the elf daily, there comes a time when you have to say goodbye to it. But when does the Elf on the Shelf leave? The tradition comes from a children’s book that explains the typical rules, which include a child being unable to touch an elf, lest it loses its magic, and the promise that it will return the following year after it leaves.

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But the rules for your Elf on the Shelf aren't as hard and fast as you might think. And, technically, you can choose when your elf returns to the, ahem, North Pole. But no one keeps their elf around past Christmas Day, so when is the best time to finally say goodbye to the Elf on the Shelf for the year?

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When does Elf on the Shelf leave during the holiday season?

For most families, the Elf on the Shelf leaves in the early hours on Christmas morning. Most parents or caregivers come up with a clever way for the elf to say goodbye so their kids aren't too heartbroken when they wake up on Christmas morning to find their elf (and their cookies for Santa) long gone.

But if that doesn't work for your family, you can come up with a different tradition that makes more sense for your kids. Your Elf on the Shelf might be around for more of a short vacation than elves who arrive at the start of December and stay the entire month. If that’s the case, then you can still plan a fun goodbye for your Elf on the Shelf days before Christmas. But, typically, the Elf on the Shelf leaves on Christmas Eve.

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When does the Elf on the Shelf arrive for most families?

For most families, the Elf on the Shelf arrives on the first day of December. If your kid has a late November birthday, you may opt for your elf to have an early arrival for your child’s sake and to add some early holiday magic. Or, if you’re new to the whole elf tradition and you’ve been pressured into partaking in it from friends who do it with their kids, you might start it for the first time after Dec. 1.

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Similar to the best time for the Elf on the Shelf to leave, the best time for your Elf on the Shelf to arrive is also up to your family. You might even allow your kids to touch the elf, which is often a no-no for others who follow the Elf on the Shelf tradition. Basically, you can make it up as you go. And as long as you sound confident enough, your kids will eat it up.

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There are tons of Elf on the Shelf ideas for newbies.

If this is your first time as an Elf on the Shelf participant, congratulations. From here on out, until your child learns the truth about Santa, you are tasked with moving and posing your Elf on the Shelf every night. You might even stage a mess in the kitchen or a silly message on the bathroom mirror in toothpaste for your kid to blame on the elf. Also, have fun cleaning that up.

There are a lot of ideas for Elf on the Shelf newbies and, luckily for literally all of us, some of the ideas are pretty simple. Yes, being in charge of the Elf on the Shelf can be a sometimes arduous task. But it doesn’t last forever. So our best advice is to enjoy the ride and try not to forget to move the darn thing before your kid wakes up tomorrow morning.

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