If you have an Elf on the Shelf that visits you and your family every year, you may be wondering, “When does Elf on the Shelf leave?” or even “When does Elf on the Shelf come?”


An Elf on the Shelf hangs from a chandelier by candy canes. Text overlay reads "when does elf on the shelf leave and return"

Elf on the shelf has been a tradition in my family since my girls were little. Every morning they excitedly woke up and looked all over for our two elves. 

One of the most common questions the kids would ask every fall was, “When does elf on the self come back?” and then “When does Elf on the shelf leave?” I’ll admit that one particularly challenging preschool year our elf made an appearance in July, but there are specific dates these helper elves typically leave and come back each year. 

What is Elf on the Shelf? 

Elf on the Shelf is a tradition where Santa Claus sends an elf to watch over children to keep an eye on their behavior before Christmas. It became popular in the U.S. after a book was published in 2004 by Carol Aebersold about her family’s tradition since the 1970s. 

Elf on the Shelf is a fun way to get kids excited about Christmas and remind them of the importance of being kind and having good behavior all month long. Kids love to try and find the elf every day, and parents love getting to see all the clever places he is hiding.

Elves move every night – they love to play, so they will hide in different places, sometimes very creative ones. They often get into quite a bit of silly mischief. See what ours has done here

When does Elf on the Shelf come?

While there’s no mandatory date for elves to come back from the North Pole, most come on Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving, or on December 1st. This time period is known as Scout Elf Return Week

A cute free printable letter from Elf on the Shelf

Elf Arrival Traditions

Elves often pop up in your home in unusual locations and are always a delight to spot for the first time during the holiday season.

Many elves will leave a letter like this customizable Elf on the Shelf Letter, which you can download and print for free. Others bring treats like candy canes or cookies

Be sure to read and follow the official Elf on the Shelf Rules to keep your elf safe. 

Where can I find Elf on the Shelf?

Modern Elf on the Shelf is available in the U.S. at elfontheshelf.com. You can also find it in stores like Barnes and Noble, Target, or online at Amazon. These elves usually come with the book, The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition, by Carol Aebersold. There are even fun elf outfits and pets you can get for your friend! 

An elf on the shelf makes snow angels in the snow.

When does Elf on the Shelf Leave?

Elf on the Shelf usually leaves on Christmas Eve. While this can be sad for many children, the elves must go back to the North Pole to report to Santa and help with Christmas. Don’t worry though, they will be back next year!