The History of the Elf on the Shelf

By: Elise Thompson

Photo by: Michael Kappel

Over the past decade, the Elf on the Shelf has become an increasingly popular Christmas tradition that is loved by children and generally hated among parents. This tradition involves an elf that is supposedly sent from the North Pole to watch over children’s behavior during the holiday season. Each night the elf flies back to the North Pole to report back to Santa and returns each morning in a different house location. A storybook also accompanies the Elf. 

This is a fairly new tradition with humble beginnings, starting with Carol Aebersold and her twin daughters Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts. When Carol was growing up, her family had an elf long before the tradition became so commercialized and widespread. Her elf was named Fisbee, and was more of an ornament that never moved and only watched over her and her siblings. When she grew up and became a parent, she decided to continue on the tradition, however, she morphed it so that each night the elf was in a new place in the morning. She also told Chanda and her sister Christa that the elf was magical and if touched would lose its powers and ability to fly back to Santa. 

In 2004, Chanda and her mom wrote a poem about the elf. This poem would later become the storybook that accompanies the elf. However, at the time they had no intentions of creating a business, and instead they saw the poem as a fun mother-daughter project they could work on together. After writing the story, they decided they wanted to publish it, yet it seemed that no publishers were interested. They then moved on to self-publish the story, “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.” A year later Christa quit her job and sold her house to join her mom and sister. The three of them all made great financial sacrifices in order to start their own publishing business, Creatively Classic Activities and Books, where they then went on to publish 5,000 copies of their Christmas story. 

For the next couple of years, they sold and marketed the Elf kits themselves. They attended trade shows, sold them in local markets, or even straight out of their cars. It wasn’t until 2007 when actress Jennifer Garner was photographed by a paparazzi holding the Elf on The Shelf in New York that the tradition really took off. Since then, the Elf on the Shelf has spread rapidly reaching all corners of the globe. Accompanying the original Elf on the Shelf, there is now an elf clothing line, elf pets, Letters to Santa (shrinkable sheets of paper that children write their Christmas list on and then create an ornament with), Elf on the Shelf Birthday Edition, elf activity kits, and an Elf on the Shelf movie was also made. What started off as a simple family tradition has now evolved into an elaborate and successful business. A family can choose how they want to spin the tradition, and for this reason the Elf on the Shelf is beloved and cherished by many across the globe. 

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