The first time I ever saw the Elf on the Shelf was when I was a kid growing up in the 1980s.
Every year, after throwing icicles on the Christmas Tree, my grandma would grab her last Christmas decoration, which was an elf in a crouching position, place it on the tree, and tell my sister and me that the elf was there to keep an eye on us and make sure we did not get into the Christmas presents.
I remember this from over 30 years ago, so it came as a shock to me that the "Elf on the Shelf" is a somewhat recent Christmas tradition that started in the early 2000s.
My grandma always did his until the day she passed away in 2012, so it leads me to wonder if she just made the tradition up or did this tradition already exist but had not become popular nationally.
Regardless, it is a fun tradition that is done in our house every year and enjoyed by all of my younger kids.
Our Elf on the Shelf Tradition
Every year on December 1, my wife and I dust off the Christmas Elf and place him somewhere around the house for when the kids wake up the next morning. They wake up and proceed to race around the house, looking for him. When they find him, my wife always explains the reason why he is hiding in that location. Sometimes, it's something goofy, and sometimes it allows us to teach our kids why we celebrate Christmas.
Here is a clip of my youngest finding Buddy the Elf:
My wife and I have done this every year for about 9 years, and since we have so many children when the older ones get to the point they outgrow the tradition, we have younger ones that are coming along that are just beginning.
History of Elf on the Shelf
The Elf on the Shelf was written in 2004 by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell. Bell suggested they write a book about an old tradition of an elf sent from Santa who came to watch over them at Christmas time. Aebersold's other daughter, Christa Pitts, was recruited by the family to share her expertise in sales and marketing.
Together, the trio devoted the next three years to promoting their self-published book and attending book signings and trade shows.
The Elf on the Shelf won the Best Toy Award by Learning Express, the Book of the Year Award from Creative Child Awards, and the National Best Books Award sponsored by USA Book News in 2008.
On 26 November 2011, a 30-minute animated special titled An Elf's Story: The Elf on the Shelf aired on CBS, directed by Chad Eikhoff. The Washington Post criticized the quality of the animation and dismissed it as "just a half-hour advertisement for a book and a toy," which it felt would not join "the canon of prime-time animated Christmas specials that actually move the spirit."
Common Sense Media disagreed, calling the special "a great addition to families' holiday TV traditions"; however, they also warn parents about the consumer-driven nature of the story and make note of its lack of educational value.
In 2012, The Elf on the Shelf made its first appearance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside fellow parade newcomers Hello Kitty and Papa Smurf. In 2013, The Elf on the Shelf hit the No. 1 spot on the USA Today Bestsellers List.
In October 2013, The Elf on the Shelf: A Birthday Tradition was released. Written and illustrated by the same team that created the first book, it offers instructions for inviting a scout elf to visit for a child's birthday party and describes how the elf decorates a chair for the child.
In April 2014, two supplemental birthday products were released: The Elf on the Shelf Birthday Countdown Game and The Elf on the Shelf Birthday Chair Decoration Kit.