Why We Celebrate” looks at holidays, occasions, and traditions from all over the world, and explains their origins, the meaning behind them, and the reasons we observe them. Learn about the history of elfing and how to elf someone, including ways to incorporate this fun tradition into your own holiday plans.

Stop trying to decide between being naughty or nice this holiday season and be a little bit of both. It’s time for you to channel your inner elf and secretly shower your friends with Christmas-themed treats.

Just as Halloween has “booing,” Christmas has “elfing.” And just like you do around the end of October, elfing involves stealthily leaving candy and treats on your neighbors’ doorstep and then dashing away faster than Santa’s sleigh. It’s a lighthearted and slightly mischievous way to bless others and keep them on their toes all holiday long.

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How does elfing work?

Also referred to as “jingling” or “tinseling,” elfing is an easy way to get in the holiday spirit and share some gifts. The practice works best when you involve a large group of connected people, such as coworkers, neighbors, or extended family.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, one person starts by secretly leaving someone a present with a note or poem explaining how it works. The key to success is being sneaky — you don’t want anyone to catch you in action.

After someone gets elfed, they are encouraged to pass the game on by elfing at least two more people. And on and on it goes.

James Cooper headshot

How you do elfing is up to you. Some people seem to like leaving things like cookies, whereas others like making little decorations or presents.

James Cooper

Owner and manager, WhyChristmas.com

A history of elfing

This spin on a secret Santa gift exchange may be new to you, but the tradition has deep roots in Scandinavian culture.

“Yes, elfing is considered a ‘new’ tradition today, but it also has some links to a much older tradition,” explains James Cooper, the owner and manager of ‘Why Christmas?’ a kid-friendly Christmas information website.

Photo of someone wrapping Christmas gifts

“Elfing is similar to a Swedish tradition dating back hundreds of years called ‘julklapp,’ which means ‘Christmas knock.’ You would knock on the door of a friend or neighbor and then leave a small gift, often made from straw or wood, on the doorstep before sprinting away. The gift would include a little poem or riddle that would help people work out who had left the gift.”

Today, the term julklapp is used in Sweden to refer to all Christmas gifts, and the tradition of sneakily gifting presents has endured as a holiday highlight for the region’s children.

How to get started elfing

Photo of mom and daughters wrapping presents to elf someone

You don’t need to live near the North Pole to take part in the fun of elfing. Today, this centuries-old Swedish tradition is gaining new life as a creative spin on classic gift exchanges.

“The modern version seems to have started with people posting photos and ideas of leaving secret gifts for their neighbors on social media platforms,” Cooper says. The idea has taken off, and in this time of social distancing, it has attained a new level of popularity.

With a bit of prep work, you can start your own tinseling tradition.

Print this “You’ve Been Elfed!” guide

The first step to successful elfing is ensuring participants understand how the game works. Every delivery should include a sign proclaiming to the world “We’ve Been Elfed!” as well as an instruction guide explaining the “rules” and letting recipients know how to continue the fun. It also can include riddles or helpful hints for narrowing down who gave the gift in the first place (you!).

Not sure what to write? That’s why we’re here. Download this printable guide and use it to carry out your elfing missions.

You've Been Elfed Sign

Choose a gift

The most important part of elfing is deciding what to gift. “How you do elfing is up to you,” Cooper says. “Some people seem to like leaving things like cookies, whereas others like making little decorations or presents.”

Photo of Christmas cookies

A gift that’s sure to be a hit is the “You’ve Been Elfed!” collection of holiday favorites from Cheryl’s Cookies. Each treats boxparty box, and treats pail contains an assortment of buttercream cookies and other decadent delights that they will enjoy eating while plotting who they want to elf next.

Or, go a more personalized route by gifting a girl or boy Christmas elf ornament inscribed with the recipient’s name.

Deliver and dash

You’ve now reached the best part: It’s time to leave your gift and make your getaway. Place your present on the recipient’s doorstep, ring the doorbell, and get out of sight. The included note will explain what’s going on and hopefully encourage them to pay the fun forward.

Photo of girl with santa hat elfing someone

Elfing offers us an unconventional way to enjoy the holiday season and surprise those you care about. So long as you perfect your ability to sneak around and leave presents unnoticed, you’ll soon be as successful as Santa’s elves when it comes to making happy holiday memories.


Lydia Noyes specializes in content creation related to environmental topics, homesteading, organic gardening, health, fitness, and nutrition. Her online writing is featured in hundreds of articles for brands and publications within the health and wellness industry, including the popular gardening website, Rural Sprout.

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