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When should the Elf on the Shelf arrive in your home?

It might be sooner than you think...
Elf on the shelf
This mischievous little Elf is just dying to invade your home and determine if your kids make Santa's "nice" list. (Note: This Elf is not an "official" Elf on the Shelf, but he's pretty darn adorable!)TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

It may feel like the Christmas spirit returns earlier and earlier each year, but is there an official start to the season? At least the question "When does Elf on the Shelf start?" has a correct answer. According to the official Elf on the Shelf site, Scout Elf Return Week begins Nov. 22 and lasts until Dec. 1.

But how did the Elf become such a huge part of Christmas culture?

(Hint: The TODAY Show played a small part in sparking the holiday magic!)

When did the Elf on the Shelf start?

Carol Aebersold received an adorable pixie elf named Fisbee when she was a child, and in 1974, she told her three children that Fisbee's job was to keep an eye on them during the day and report their behavior to Santa Claus at night.

The tradition was so beloved that Aebersold and her daughters, Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts, turned it into a book and figurine in 2005. Every publisher and editor they approached turned them down, so the family ended up self-publishing.

“I was a new mom myself, and I was like, ‘Hey, Mom, I need an elf that talks to Santa too! There was nothing like that available,” Bell told in 2015.

The simple story says: "Each night while you’re sleeping/to Santa I’ll fly. I’ll tell him if you have been good or bad. The news of the day makes him happy or sad … I’ll be back at your home before you awake, and then you must find the new spot I will take.”

The family was selling their gift package to customers one at a time, then in 2007, Jennifer Garner was photographed carrying an Elf on the Shelf package. Shortly after, the TODAY Show aired a segment about the toy, which led to a deluge of orders.

“PayPal shut down our website because of the surge in traffic,” Bell told Good Housekeeping in 2016.

The rest is Christmas history.

Christmas season ornaments and decor
You never know where the Elf will be hiding! (Note: This sneaky friend might be an "unofficial" Elf, but he's really good at hiding!)smilesb / Getty Images

The year 2012 was pivotal year for the company: The animated special "An Elf’s Story" premiered, as did the Elf on the Shelf balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. At the time, it was the largest balloon in the parade. In December 2022, Pitts told Business Insider that more than 22.5 million elves have been sold.

What are the Elf on the Shelf rules?

If you need to brush up on the Elf rules and regulations before the start of the season, here are the highlights:

  • Elves appear during Scout Elf Return Week, which is Nov. 22 to Dec. 1 this year, but this is not a hard and fast rule. Elves can appear at any time.
  • Children shouldn’t touch the Scout Elves or they’ll lose their Christmas magic.
  • If kids accidentally touch their Elf, write a note of apology, sprinkle cinnamon next to the Elf or sing a Christmas carol.
  • Scout Elves listen well, but they never speak to humans. 
  • Scout Elves are always nice, often clever and humorous, but never cruel or naughty.
  • After reporting back to Santa at the North Pole each night, Scout Elves are found the next morning in a new spot in the home.
  • Don't worry if your Elf doesn't move one night. There could be a whole bunch of reasons he stayed put.
  • Scout Elves are adopted, not bought.
  • Elves return to the North Pole on Christmas Eve to help the big guy prep for the holiday.

Using these rules as a guide, you can get as creative as you'd like. The company has an app to help guide parents through the Elf-ing process, and social media is packed with parents sharing and showing off their cleverly designed Elf scenes.

Some parents can find the rules to be exhausting at times. Don't be afraid to take a break. Literally.

When this family had to leave town for a soccer tournament, their Elf just happened to break his leg. Oops.

If you need other (less vicious) ways to incorporate your Elf into the holiday season, we've got you covered with quick and easy Elf ideas to try.

Enjoy your return to Christmas magic year after year!