It’s Friday Fun Facts: Elf on the Shelf

Elf on the Shelf

The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition is a 2005 children’s picture book, written by Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, and illustrated by Coë Steinwart. The book tells a Christmas-themed story, written in rhyme, that explains how Santa Claus knows who is naughty and nice. It describes elves visiting children from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, after which they return to the North Pole until the next holiday season. The Elf on the Shelf comes in a keepsake box that features a hardbound picture book and a small scout elf. The authors say the story is from a family tradition started by Carol Aebersold for her twin daughters, Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts in Georgia, USA.

“Nine-year-old Taylor McTuttle has reached a crossroads. Does he believe Santa Claus really knows who is naughty or nice? Does he even believe in Santa anymore? An Elf’s Story is the inspirational tale of Chippey, a Scout Elf who is assigned by Santa to restore Taylor’s belief in Christmas magic. When the boy breaks the number one Elf on the Shelf rule, and Chippey loses his Christmas magic, only a change of heart can set things right. Through the power of love and forgiveness, Taylor and Chippey learn the most important lesson of all: that true belief cannot be taught. A family holiday classic for generations to come, An Elf’s Story is filled with singing, dancing, magic and the unforgettable message that Christmas is something we carry in our hearts.”

The Origin of Elf on the Shelf

  • The Elf on the Shelf idea dates back to a family tradition from their childhood in Georgia in the 1970s.
  • “Our elf was named Fisbee and would report to Santa Claus at night and be back in a different position in our house the next day,” Christa Pitts explained.
  • Fisbee was more like an ornament that stayed on the Christmas tree and didn’t move.
  • The tradition morphed over time. Chanda Bell told her kids the elf would magically fly around at night and mustn’t be touched or it would lose its magic.
  • During a visit at home in 2004, “I looked up and I saw our elf that we grew up with sitting on a shelf,” said Bell. “I was like, ‘Mom, why don’t we write a story about the elf on the shelf?’ There was no intention of starting a business or really doing much of anything other than a fun project for mom and I to work on together.”
  • After nothing but rejections from publishers, they decided to self-publish The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.
  • In 2005, Bell and Aebersold invited Pitts on board. She left her job and sold her house in PA to move in with her parents in Georgia. Bell took out a line of credit, Pitts put forth money from the sale of her house and Aebersold cleaned out her retirement account to start their own publishing house, Creatively Classic Activities and Books. They published 5,000 copies of their bookillustrated by local watercolor artist Coë Steinwart.

“We ended up taking some huge risks financially and for our families, but we all just really believed that this was a tradition worth sharing,” said Bell.

  • For the next couple of years, the women sold their Elf on the Shelf kits at local trade shows and markets. They also sold their product online and appeared at bookstores to share the story of The Elf on the Shelf.
  • 2007 marked a turning point. In November, actress Jennifer Garner was photographed carrying an Elf on the Shelf box in New York. The following month, the “Today” show ran a segment on The Elf on the Shelf. From there, they were flooded with calls and orders, and more bookstores and toy stores started selling their product.
  • The Elf on the Shelf is a global phenomenon. More than 13 million elves have been “adopted” in the U.S. and beyond ― from Mexico to the U.K. to Zimbabwe.

Where did elves originate?

Ancient Norse mythology refers to the álfar, also known as huldufólk, or “hidden folk.” However, it’s risky to translate álfar directly to the English word “elf,” said Terry Gunnell, a folklorist at the University of Iceland. Elves are thought of as little people, perhaps wearing stocking caps and cavorting with fairies, but the original conception of álfar was far less whimsical. Some ancient poems place them side by side with the Norse gods, perhaps as another word for the Vanir, a group of gods associated with fertility, or perhaps as their own godly race. It’s likely, Gunnell said, that elves’ inventors had no single, unified theory on elvish identity; rather, there were a variety of related folk beliefs regarding this unseen race.

“They look like us, they live like us — at least in the older materials — and probably, nowadays, if they’re living anywhere, they’re living between floors in flats [apartments],” Gunnell told LiveScience, referring to the notion of an invisible, parallel world inhabited by álfar — the friendly neighbors who live between the seventh and eighth floors.

Iceland was settled in the 800s by Scandinavians and Celts, brought from Ireland as slaves. Both Scandinavian and Celtic cultures had myths of fairies, elves, and nature spirits, which began to meld into the concept of álfar as representatives of the landscape, Gunnell said. Iceland’s eerie, volcanic setting probably played into these myths, Gunnell said, especially in the dark of winter, when the Northern Lights are the only thing illuminating the long nights.

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