What Is Elf On The Shelf? The Ultimate Guide For Newbies This Christmas

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As we gear up to December, there are a few things that’ll remind you the festive season is already in full swing: mince pies everywhere (in fact, I’m eating one as I write), Christmas adverts on loop, and – if you’re a parent – Elf on the Shelf.

Some parents may already be in elf mode, seeing as the Christmas tradition has been growing in popularity in Britain year on year. Others may have absolutely no idea what we’re on about.

So here it goes...

HuffPost UK

What Actually Is Elf On The Shelf?

Like many celebrations here in the UK (think baby showers and prom nights), Elf on the Shelf originated in the US – as the story of an elf sent by Santa to watch over kids at Christmas time to make sure they’re behaving.

Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell came up with the storybook in 2004. “We grew up with this tradition in our home,” Bell previously told HuffPost UK. “When we were children, our Scout Elf, Fisbee, would come to our home and look over our family each year. I have such wonderful childhood memories with Fisbee.”

After it was rejected by publishers, the pair decided to self-publish the book in 2005 and packaged it up with an elf toy. This way, parents could make the elf pop up at different places around the house (as he did in the book), reminding kids he was on the move, keeping an eye out for Santa.

Aabersold and Bell sold the books from the backs of cars and reached out to family and friends they thought might want to adopt the tradition. Then in 2007, a picture was taken of Jennifer Garner walking down the street holding her own Elf on the Shelf box set. The photo went viral and everyone wanted to know more. By 2008, Elf on the Shelf was in major retail stores.


How Does Elf On The Shelf Work?

The authors are keen that the elves are not “bought” but “adopted”, therefore they call shops selling the toys “adoption centres”. Families buy the box set (book and elf combo) and then, on 1 December, the elf should pop up in the morning somewhere in your house – perhaps with a note saying hi to the kids.

Following on from that, every day of December once kids are in bed, parents place the elf in different locations around the house so he is somewhere new when the kids wake up each morning.

The elf says goodbye on Christmas Eve, as kids wake up to presents from Santa (rather than an elf) on Christmas Day.

There are some rules involved:

:: Children can chat to the elf but can’t touch him (otherwise he will ‘disappear forever’ according to the book).

:: Kids have to be in bed before you can move the elf.

:: Elves only gets their magic by being named. Families can name their elves anything after ‘adopting’ them, but there is a pool of popular festive names available here.

So Why Does Everyone Go Crazy Over It?

It sounds quite simple so far, right? However since the tradition gained huge momentum in America, parents have been thinking up ever more creative and different poses for their elf and where they are positioned each morning.

Now, parents in Britain have caught on and use Instagram and Pinterest to share fun and interesting scenarios to leave their elves.

“We wanted to help create memorable family moments,” said Bell. “We hoped to share something fun that families could do together. Being a mum, the biggest joy of the Christmas season is seeing it through your children’s eyes. The look on their faces in the morning when they find their beloved Scout Elf is a memory that will last a lifetime.”

What Else Should I Know?

Since British parents have caught on to the craze, some parents have invented funny hacks that’ll bide them time if they forget to move the elf (or just can’t be bothered). This mum’s retirement hack was a winner, as well as these excuses for why your child’s elf hasn’t moved. And not forgetting the mum who broke her elf’s leg so he didn’t have to move for two weeks...

Want ideas for your elf this year? Head to our Elf on the Shelf hub here.

We’d love to see your creations! If you’re doing Elf on the Shelf this year, send us photos to ukparents@huffpost.com.