Simply put, what is Elf on the Shelf? This Christmas tradition is one phenomenon that takes the Christmas season by storm each year. But have you ever wondered how this delightful tradition began? Perhaps you’re new to Elf on the on Shelf and just don’t know where on Earth to start?! Well, we’ll start with the Elf on the Shelf story, how it came about and why it’s treasured worldwide.
If you’re undecided on this tradition, I’ll dive into some insights that will help you understand and hopefully give you some clarity on whether or not it’s right for your family. If you’re dusting off your favourite little elf friend for another year, this article will help you appreciate it even more (you may even learn something you didn’t know about your Elf!).
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Table of Contents
What is Elf on the Shelf: The Story
The Elf on the Shelf story all started in 2005 when Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell decided to share their own cherished family tradition. Inspired by Carol's childhood memories of an elf who appeared in her home during the holidays, they co-authored a children's book titled “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition.” This beautifully illustrated book introduced the concept of a special scout elf who magically flies to the North Pole every night to report back to Santa Claus about children's behaviour.
The story revolves around Santa's scout elves, who are sent to homes around the world during the holiday season. These elves watch over the children by day, and at night, they return to the North Pole to share their observations with Santa.
This tradition serves as a gentle reminder to kids that Santa is always watching and encourages good behaviour leading up to Christmas.
How Does Elf on the Shelf Work?
Now for the important part of our guide to what is Elf on the Shelf. Let’s find out more about how the tradition works.
1. Adopting Your Elf
The Elf on the Shelf tradition begins with the adoption of your very own scout elf. There are many versions of Christmas elves available. If you opt for the official Elf on the Shelf kit, it includes a scout elf figurine/doll and a copy of the book, “The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition”.
Once you have your elf, introduce it to your family and let your children know that this special Elf has been sent by Santa Claus to watch over them during the holiday season. I found that reading my children the book was a great place to start. Just be sure to read the book yourself first as you may want to adapt some of the suggestions and Elf on the Shelf rules within the book (more on rules below!).
2. Naming Your Elf
What is Elf on the Shelf without a name? Children love this part. Encourage them to choose a unique and memorable name. This name will be used throughout the season and helps create a strong bond between your child and their Elf. It also personalises the experience for each family as your children will love to talk to their friends, exchanging stories all about their Elf.
3. Elf Placement
What is Elf on the Shelf placement? This is where your elf takes different positions around the house every night (it’s also where the real fun begins!). Families wake up each morning to discover where their Elf has moved.
Get creative! Each night, find a new and exciting spot for your elf to appear the next morning. This is where your imagination can shine, from perching on a bookshelf to hiding in the cookie jar – the possibilities are endless. You can also check out my article 39 Easy + Creative Elf on the Shelf Ideas for antics that my Elf (Steve) gets up to.
Involve Your Children (and make it easier for you). Engage your kids by letting them help decide where the elf should go next. It adds to the excitement and anticipation each morning. Will the Elf show up there tomorrow? Perhaps next week?
Throughout the day, the Elf watches over the children, so they can report back to Santa Claus. You can use this to emphasize good behaviour by reminding your children that the scout elf is watching to see if they're being good and kind during the holiday season. This can be a gentle way to encourage positive behaviour.
5. Nightly Reports
At night, when everyone is asleep, the elf returns to the North Pole (or communicates magically) to provide Santa with updates on the children's behaviour and the things they did that day. The Elf returns before the family wakes up and takes a new position in the house, ready for the next day's adventure.
What are the Elf on the Shelf Rules?
The Elf on the Shelf tradition comes with a set of “rules” or guidelines. You can of course adapt these to suit your family’s needs. However, for the purpose of this article, I’ll provide you with the official Elf on the Shelf rules (and some additional suggestions):
- The most important rule is that you cannot touch your Elf or they will lose their magic. I tend to make the exception with my kids that adults are allowed to touch them. Heaven forbid the dog tries to take Steve the Elf as his new toy! So sometimes there are occasions when I need to touch our Elf.
- Your Elf cannot talk and they will not move during the day when anyone is around.
- Your Elf must go back to the North Pole on Christmas Eve to help Santa prepare for next Christmas.
What to do if your Elf is accidentally touched
If your Elf has been touched, they cannot fly back to the North Pole that night (or for however many nights you choose). Luckily though, there are some workarounds for this rule:
- “Recharge” your Elf’s magic by sprinkling it with a little cinnamon or Christmas magic dust.
- Send Santa a letter with an apology for touching your Elf.
- Sing Christmas carols with your family, the louder the better so that your Elf can hear you. Singing helps to restore your Elf’s magic.
- Your elf can return with a behaviour report card (this can be done when children are behaving too!). On the report card Santa can note how their behaviour is and if they’re tracking for the Nice List.
Why is Elf on the Shelf so popular?
I know, it's insane how big this whole Elf thing is! I love the magic behind the Elf on the Shelf story plus the reasons below as to why people flock to this phenomenon.
The Magic of Belief
Elf on the Shelf taps into the pure and unadulterated magic of childhood. It keeps that precious belief in Santa Claus alive a little longer, and let's face it, who doesn't want to hold onto a bit of that enchantment, even as adults? The idea that an Elf is watching, reporting, and flying to the North Pole each night is nothing short of enchanting.
Encouraging Good Behavior
For parents, Elf on the Shelf is like having a little helper reminding the kids to be on their best behaviour, especially during the holiday season. The mere presence of the elf can inspire acts of kindness and good deeds, making it easier for parents to navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of holiday behaviour management.
The Elf antics are a holiday ritual that kids eagerly anticipate year after year. The excitement of finding the Elf in a new spot each morning, the laughter it brings, and the bonding that occurs while planning its nightly adventures create lasting memories for families.
Elf on the Shelf isn't just about watching; it's about doing – doing creative, hilarious, and utterly imaginative things. Parents unleash their inner artists and comedians, dreaming up ingenious scenarios for their scout elf. It's a chance for parents to shine and bring smiles to their kids' faces each morning.
Social Media Sharing
Yes, you’ll notice that some of these are more about the parent than the children! Parents take to social media to showcase their Elf's escapades, inspiring others and spreading holiday cheer. It's an amazing way to connect with friends and family to share in the magic.
A Dash of Mystery
Ah, the mystery! What is Elf on the Shelf without tantalizing hints of something bigger, something magical? The idea of a famous Christmas children's realization adds an intrigue that keeps us coming back for more, year after year.
Positive Benefits of Elf on the Shelf
Some parents are hesitant about implementing an Elf, I'll go over both the pros and cons of Elf on the Shelf below.
Imagination and Creativity
Elf on the Shelf encourages creativity and imaginative play. Coming up with new Elf scenarios each night can be an absolute blast for kids and parents alike. From zip-lining across the living room to setting up a mini North Pole cafe, the possibilities are endless.
Reinforces Good Behavior
Let's admit it; it's nice to have a little helper in the behaviour department during the holiday season. The idea that the Elf reports back to Santa Claus encourages children to be on their best behaviour. It's like a built-in incentive for good deeds.
Daily Surprises and Excitement
Waking up every morning to find where the Elf has landed adds a dose of excitement to the holiday season. It's like a mini treasure hunt that brings joy to their cute little faces.
Planning and executing elf adventures can become a fun family activity. It's an opportunity to spend quality time together and create lasting memories.
Elf on the Shelf is a tradition that many children look forward to each year. It adds a sense of anticipation and excitement to the holiday season, creating beautiful memories for years to come.
Are There Negatives of Elf on the Shelf?
I wanted to address possible concerns of the Elf on the Shelf tradition. It is entirely up to you whether you choose to indulge in these games. Some parents may insist on not introducing Elf on the Shelf (I know many who simply hold off as long as they can, myself included). However, you probably find yourself here doing your own research, quite possibly due to the fact that your children keep asking about it.
Hopefully, this article has given you some answers to your questions. Below I’ll cover some common reasons people prefer not to invite Elf on the Shelf to their home. Be sure to look over the positive benefits above before you make your decision too.
Stress for Parents
Keeping up with the nightly Elf adventures can be a tad stressful for parents. There's the pressure to be creative, and the fear of forgetting to move the elf can add to the holiday stress.
Surveillance State of Mind
While the idea of good behaviour is great, some parents worry that Elf on the Shelf can inadvertently send the message that children are under constant surveillance during the holidays, which might not align with the spirit of trust and love we want to foster.
Sibling rivalry can sometimes rear its head when it comes to the Elf. Arguments about who touched the elf last or whose turn it is to find it in the morning can happen.
The “Good Behavior” Obsession
Some parents find themselves overly focused on their child's behaviour during the holiday season, with the Elf acting as a constant reminder. This can detract from the joy and magic of the season. It can also put pressure on parents to find another magical way to encourage good behaviour for the other 11 months of the year.
The End-of-Season Farewell
Saying goodbye to the elf on Christmas Eve can be bittersweet. Some children may feel sad when their holiday friend goes back to the North Pole for the year.
Quick Questions Answered: What is Elf on the Shelf?
What is the number one rule for Elf on the Shelf?
Do not touch your Elf or they will lose their magic.
What age is appropriate for Elf on the Shelf?
Officially it was created for children 3 – 15 years. However, it varies between families. You can introduce your Elf around 2-3 years and then stop simply when they lose interest (I doubt my kids will be interested at 15!).
How do you play Elf on the Shelf for kids?
Each day an Elf toy watches over children, moving every night to a new position or antic. Overnight the magical Elf reports their behaviour back to Santa.
How does the Elf on the Shelf move?
Once everyone is asleep, your magical Elf will fly back to the North Pole (sometimes with some help from parents).
Why can't kids hold Elf on the Shelf?
Elf on the Shelf will lose their magic if touched by a child.
What to do if your child touches an Elf on the Shelf?
Recharge your Elf’s magic by singing Christmas carols or sprinkling it with a little cinnamon (Christmas magic dust).
What to do if your Elf doesn’t move overnight?
There are so many creative excuses you can use – check out my article 32 reasons your Elf didn’t move
How do you welcome Elf on the Shelf for the first time?
Create a Welcome letter or sign; Read the official Elf on the Shelf book.
What day does Elf on the Shelf appear?
Most Elves arrive between 24th November – 1st December.
What day is the Elf on the Shelf supposed to leave?
On December 24th your Elf will say goodbye to fly back to the North Pole.
Making Elf on the Shelf Easier
Personally, I held off from introducing Elf on the Shelf to my children simply because so many other Mums I know seemed to be so resentful of this Elf. They always started the holiday season in good spirits and were excited for their Elf’s antics. But it just seemed to become so tiring for them.
And I get it now, it can be exhausting coming up with ideas. It is such a busy time of year as it is, sometimes even just remembering your Elf needs to move is hard enough! That’s why I try to provide readers here with Elf antics ideas and hopefully alleviate any stress or pressure with articles like reasons you can tell your children that your Elf didn’t move. I also have free printable Elf accessories that you can download for some fun Elf games.
Lastly, as a shameless plug, if you need a little more than the free printables I also sell printable Christmas Elf planners and various customisable letters. With any luck these, plus the free printables and the articles will help make your Elfing days easier and simply fun. This is supposed to be fun not just for children but for parents too! I love writing about this Elf so feel free to drop a comment below if there’s anything further you would like to know on what is the Elf on the Shelf tradition.
What is Elf on the Shelf to Your Family?
What is Elf on the Shelf to you and your family? Do you adjust the tradition to suit? Do you have different Elf on the Shelf rules? I have to admit that I rarely use the Elf to actively encourage good behaviour but my children are getting older and don’t need it as much encouragement as younger children might. We simply have the tradition because it’s all such good fun. I love seeing the kid's excitement each morning (yesss Mum, you get an imaginary gold star for that awesome Elf placement last night haha).
I’m curious as to the views of others on these magical Elves. Perhaps you have strong opinions against the Elf? Did you notice any significant changes in your children? I really enjoy hearing the experiences of others and the way in which they influence their opinions. So no judgment here, let me know – good or bad, comment below.
Other resources you may like:
FREEBIE: Printable Christmas Elf Antics Accessories
FREEBIE: An Easy Kids Santa Beard Craft (Free Printable Template)
ARTICLE: 32 Reasons Elf on the Shelf Didn't Move Last Night
ARTICLE: 21 Last-Minute Elf on the Shelf Ideas
SHOP: Printable Christmas Elf planners and calendars