Every year just after Thanksgiving, when people begin to decorate their houses, a festive visitor may appear in your home and stick around until after Christmas Day. Depending on where you are in the world or what your family’s traditions are, your visiting guest could either be an Elf on a Shelf (opens in new tab) or a Nordic gonk. The similarities can’t be denied: both sport red hats and festive outfits and both have a pretty mischievous side. However, while an Elf on a Shelf is a special scout, reporting back to Santa how the children in the house are behaving, a Christmas gonk (or gnome) does little else other than look cute. 

Learn all about Christmas gonks

What is the Elf on a Shelf story?

Conceived in 2005 by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, The Elf on a Shelf began as a storybook and has quickly become a worldwide phenomenon, with the internet lighting up at this time of year with examples of how the elf moves around a home each night. The story goes that the elf hides in your home to keep an eye on events. As soon as everyone is in bed, the elf heads to the North Pole, reports on each day’s behaviour - good or bad - then returns to the house to a new hiding spot, and more often than not, while creating some minor havoc in the process.

What are the rules of Elf on a Shelf?

Your elf should be given a nameThere’s no set time for your elf’s arrival – crack him or her out whenever you’re readyEvery night, once the kids are in bed, move him or her – elf on the shelf ideas belowYour elf on a shelf keeps an eye on the children all day long to check they’re being good…The elf doesn’t speak to the children or move while they’re awake – but he’s busy at nightBut children can’t touch the elfThe elf magically disappears just before Christmas

Elf on the Shelf ideas – with gonks in on the action, too

Looking for some fun Elf-spiration? Try these to surprise your kids in the run up to Christmas.

Elf on a Shelf helping with the laundry

Helping in the loosest sense of the word, this elf is living up to its mischievous side perfectly. A photo posted by on

Christmas Gonk in a hallway

Keeping guard on this house in Norway, this gonk (or Nisse) is blending into his Scandi surroundings perfectly.

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Elf on a Shelf decorating the tree

One would hope that these elves had good intentions when they decided to help decorate the tree… A photo posted by on A photo posted by on

Christmas Gonks - double trouble

As with elves, gonks can often be found in groups - these two are doing what they do best - sitting cross-legged on the top of a barrel in a festively decorated room.  A photo posted by on

Elf on a shelf running the taps

This naughty elf has managed to work his elf magic to turn the tap water to candy… A photo posted by on

Christmas gonks at night time

As mentioned, gonks tend to cluster in groups and usually in various sizes, too. This cute family are keeping watch over this house as everyone sleeps. A photo posted by on

What is a Christmas gonk?

Christmas gonks, or to give them their traditional name Tomte (Swedish), Nisse (Norway and Denmark) or Tonttu (Finnish), date back to at least the 17th century. Their main job is to protect over a home and its inhabitants, yet it’s said that they also have a tendency to misbehave occasionally, too. Both are undeniably cutsey - the elf boasts a saccharin sweet, butter-wouldn’t-melt face, while gonks, if you can bear to choose between the two, could be considered the more stylish one.