When and How to Retire Elf on the Shelf

by | Oct 17, 2023

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Maybe you love your Elf on the Shelf or perhaps you bought it and instantly regret the chore of moving it all December… Either way, at some point there comes a time to retire elf on the shelf. But when is that time? And how exactly do you get rid of a Christmas tradition?

Now that my kids range in age from 8 to 16 I was wondering the same thing. Elf on the Shelf, to me at least, seems like a very preschooler age activity. Once kids get older they’re a lot less impressed with the Elf’s adventures.

When I bought this thing 9 years ago I wasn’t thinking of any of this. My kids at the time were 7, 5, and 2 – all perfect ages to enjoy Elf on the Shelf. Now that we’re almost out of the “little kid” stage I’ve reached this bittersweet moment of wondering: are we done with Elf on the Shelf?

When Should You Retire the Elf on the Shelf?

The answer to this one is complicated. I asked some moms online this question recently and there really wasn’t a consensus. Some kept the Elf tradition going after kids were older (more on that later) and others axed the tradition once kids no longer believed in the Elf or Santa.

There’s no magic age for this to happen but according to a 2018 study kids stop believing in Santa, on average, at age 8. That means my kids who still believe are actually outliers from the norm. I’m not surprised, though; my daughter had Santa spoiled last Christmas at age 10 (thanks TikTok) and was devastated. Apparently we love Christmas magic in our house!

Bottom line: It’s time to retire the Elf on the Shelf or change your traditions when kids no longer believe it’s real and you’re ready to move on.

How to Retire Elf on the Shelf

So your kids are too old and you’re planning to part with the Elf here’s some tips for retiring it successfully. The Elf on the Shelf has probably been part of your family for a few years by now and it’s only right to give it a proper send off.

You might also like: How to Have a Good Elf on the Shelf

Host an Elf Retirement Party

I don’t know much about elves but I do know about working and I think your Elf would probably appreciate going into retirement after working hard to survey your kids. I know at least in my house it’s a relentless job… Haha.

Thank the Elf on the Shelf for a job well done and reporting so many good things back to Santa by hosting a farewell retirement party for it. Make snacks, decorate, do it all! Don’t forget to get the kids involved.

Even if they don’t show it your tweens and teens probably have mixed feelings about losing their childhood tradition so this is a nice way for them to get some closure too.

Gift the Elf to Another Family

Maybe the Elf doesn’t get to retire… That’s ok too! If you have another family that’s close to yours (maybe your siblings have younger kids or a close family friend) gift your Elf on the Shelf to the next generation. Have your kids package it up (including any accessories) and give it themselves.

Again, this is another way to get closure and keep the magic alive.

Elf on the Shelf having a drink

Change Your Tradition

Times are changing – and so are your Christmas traditions. Instead of retiring the Elf on the Shelf reinvent the tradition in a way that makes sense for your family now. That might mean getting the kids involved or doing more “grown up” scenes with the Elf.

Someone even suggested they’re going to just put it out as a decoration and leave it there so it’s still part of the festivities. Whatever works for you!

Should You Keep or Get Rid of the Elf on the Shelf Once its Retired?

This is a tricky one and a question I myself have wrangled with. I like the idea of passing the Elf on, but my kids also like to hang onto stuff. If you have an only child it’s a lot easier to save for one child. But in my case I’m saving one Elf on the Shelf for 5 kids… That doesn’t really work.

I’ll probably hang onto ours after and keep it at my house when the kids get older, but this is a tricky one to tackle for sure. And what makes us think our kids will even want the silly thing when they’ve grown up?

If gifting it seems like the right decision for your family I say go for it. If you want to save it and decide later, that’s OK too. Just don’t sweat it – the memories are what’s special, not the Elf itself.

Conclusion: What We Decided

So back to my question – when should I retire Elf on the Shelf for my family? We decided that we’ll keep it around another year or two the way things are, but start getting the older kids more involved in helping set it up to make things more fun.

Even though I’m done with this activity it wouldn’t be fair to my 8 year old twins to get ripped off from the Christmas magic. Once they stop believing, though, we’ll switch to having the kids take turns setting up the Elf for each other.

Funny story: one of the twins actually got an Elf on the Shelf keychain last Christmas and was doing that himself for awhile so I think that new tradition will go over very well.

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Everett Franchuk

Everett Franchuk

Everett loves to plan parties and events, decorate, and make crafts/DIY projects. As a parent of 5 in his early 30s, he decided to start The Best Nest to offer practical tips and ideas.

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