The History of “The Elf on the Shelf”

Zach Sevart, Staff Writer

Tradition is an important aspect of holiday celebration that brings people closer together over a shared special event. Plenty of holidays containing a variety of traditions, like Christmas and Hanukkah, have been celebrated around the world for thousands of years, but that has not stopped the creation of new holiday traditions. Although not as significant as many of the widely celebrated religious holidays, “The Elf on the Shelf” has had a lasting impact on the tradition of many families in the United States. Since its initial release, “The Elf on the Shelf” has sold more than 11 million copies worldwide, or almost a quarter of a billion USD. The concept of the book at the time of its creation was new and exciting, but its origin story is equally as interesting.

It all started in 2005 when author Carol Aebersold accidently created one of the most popular holiday themed children’s books of the 21st century. She had trouble making enough money for her and her daughter so they moved to Abersold’s mother’s house where she had an idea to write a Christmas-themed children’s book. The idea came from an old Scandinavian holiday tradition that Aebersold used to celebrate with her family  when she was a kid. The idea was simple yet effective, allowing children to have a direct link to Santa Claus through a messenger elf while giving parents a way to promote good behavior in children. Each book that was sold came with an elf for families to use if they wanted to. The main rules of having an elf were that you were not allowed to touch the elf because it would lose its magic, and you had to have good behavior because the elf would report back to the North Pole every night to tell Santa. After working with her daughter to create the book, Aebersold created and sold the books at state fairs and trade shows without the support of any big publishers, which led to a slow start for the newly formed business. After more time passed, the brand gained lots of recognition around the world. It became so popular that it was the most popular toy sold in 2008, and it also received numerous awards from parenting media organizations.

Surprisingly, Aebersold faced some criticism from parents on how “The Elf on the Shelf” affected their children’s behavior. In an article released by The Washington Post, Professor Laura Pinto states that the Elf on the Shelf communicates to children that “it is okay for other people to spy on you, and you’re not entitled to privacy.” She argues that “if you grow up thinking it is cool for the elves to watch me and report back to Santa, well, then it is cool for the NSA to watch me and report back to the government.” Washington Post reviewer Hank Stuever characterized the concept as “just another nanny cam in a nanny state obsessed with penal codes. The criticism that Aerbersold faced however created no issues in becoming what felt like an overnight sensation.”

“The Elf on the Shelf” is now recognized almost everywhere, whether it be from their very own Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float or “An Elf’s Story: The Elf on the Shelf,” an animated movie that was released in 2011. Even though freshman Sawyer Frye did not have an experience with “The Elf on the Shelf”, she says, “I know what the Elf on the Shelf is, but I have never owned one.” It goes to show how dominant “The Elf on the Shelf” has become in Christmas related celebrations. In response to their experience with “The Elf on the Shelf”, sophomore Noah Marcus says, “My most memorable experience with having one is that I didn’t know you couldn’t touch the elf so I picked him up. Then my parents told me that I couldn’t and I cried because I thought Christmas was ruined.” Although not the best experience, there are plenty of good ones, like senior Avery Knirk who says, “When I was a kid I would look forward to every morning in December because the elf would move and bring my sister and I chocolates.” Another interesting experience with “The Elf on the Shelf” comes from junior Joe Roche who says, “I remember I was six years old and it was right before Christmas, and I was in Montana. I went to bed with it in my arms, and it was on the counter the next morning and it shocked me because I hadn’t moved it. I believed it was magic.”

The success of “The Elf on the Shelf” could be measured by the growth of Aebersol’s business, or the large number of sales every year, but what should not be overlooked is the impact that “The Elf on the Shelf” has had on millions of children’s childhoods. By creating life long lasting memories and becoming a staple in holiday celebration for families across the world, “The Elf on the Shelf” has proven itself to be one of the most influential Christmas traditions ever.