Elf on the Shelf rules printable in front of Christmas tree

When December rolls around, some magic scout elves make their appearance. Whether your family has an Elf on the Shelf of their own or not, you probably know someone with kids who follows the Christmas tradition.

If you’re new to the tradition, the Elf on the Shelf rules are a good place to start!

Elf on the Shelf rules printable in front of Christmas tree

Elf on the Shelf Rules

Whether you’ve seen photos of your friends’ elves or you’ve been thinking about adding an elf to your home, understanding the whole thing is important.

What is Elf on the Shelf and When Does It Start?

The Elf on the Shelf tradition involves Santa Claus sending his scout elves down to earth to keep an eye on all the children while he’s busy getting things ready for Christmas.

Elves fly to homes during the day and keep an eye on the kids. Then when the kids go to bed, the elves return to the North Pole to report to Santa. Then the elves return back to the house before the kids wake up again.

Some families have their elves hide in different places each day, some have them get involved in their own silliness or mischief, and others have the elves bring little gifts (almost like an advent calendar).

When you purchase an Elf on the Shelf kit, you get the official Elf and the storybook. The book tells the story and outlines the rules.


Two Christmas elves sitting in multi colored pom pom wreath

What are the rules for Elf on the Shelf?

There are three rules outlined in the book and most families follow them:

  1. No touching or else the elf could lose their magic and not be able to fly back to Santa.
  2. Elves don’t talk to the kids but they can hear them. They are great listeners and can take messages back to Santa.
  3. Elves return to the North Pole for the year on Christmas Eve.

You might add a few other rules (or maybe call them guidelines) to your family tradition. Some of the things we’ve used around our house include:

  • Elves need names too! If you need help naming your elf, check out our Ultimate Guide to Elf on the Shelf Names!
  • Flexible arrival – there’s no set arrival date for your Elf on the Shelf. A lot of families have their elf arrive in November, right after Thanksgiving. Others (like our family) have the elves arrive on December 1st. Most have their elves arrive in late November or early December.
  • You may need to move your elf each night. This all depends on your approach to this holiday tradition. If you do plan to move your elf, it helps to set a reminder or an alarm on your phone! 

Elf on the Shelf elf sitting in a Christmas tree

We have actually done different things in the past. We have had our elves show off their antics. One year we had them hide in a new spot every day. But recently we have settled into them being an advent calendar of sorts. 

Our elves bring a little treat each day. Sometimes it’s a candy the kids like, sometimes a craft, and this year I’m excited for the day when they’re bringing the ingredients to make a Christmas tree cake! 

It’s going to be a fun (and tasty) Christmas season!

Elf on the Shelf rules printable on gray table

How to Use Free Printable Elf on the Shelf Rules

You can buy the official book and doll, but many families already have an elf that has been hanging around the house during the holidays.

You can use this Elf on the Shelf rules printable to introduce your official elf or another elf you have! DIYing is definitely something you can do when it comes to this tradition. The children’s book by Carol Aebersold is helpful but not absolutely necessary.

To get started, get the printable file. Then print it out. You can use regular paper or cardstock if you want it to be a bit sturdier.


Then you can set them next to your Elf when they arrive, hang them on the refrigerator, or put them in a cute frame and make them part of your Christmas decor!

More Elf on the Shelf Ideas and Printables

You can make your tradition as complicated or as simple as you want! You can plan way ahead or wing it too. I’ve done a little bit of both in the past!

If you’re looking for more ideas, check out our 50+ Easy Elf on the Shelf ideas! It also has a free printable checklist of ideas!

To make things a little easier, try some of these Elf on the Shelf printables — printable arrival and goodbye letters and printable Elf on the Shelf coloring pages!

The most important thing to remember is that this is all about making memories with a family tradition you enjoy!

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