IT might seem strange to call something a ‘tradition’ after just a few years, but Elf on the Shelf is fast becoming a festive fixture for a whole generation of young children.
If you’ve got kids yourself or you’re a grandparent, this phrase might be familiar to you, but for all those in the dark here’s a recap.
It all started in 2004 with a self-published picture book, The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition, written by American mum Carol Aebersold with 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 who is nice.
It describes elves visiting children between Thanksgiving and 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 soft toy in the form of a pixie scout elf and it’s this elf which becomes the central player in all the fun to follow.
The story describes how Santa’s ‘scout Elves’ hide in people’s homes to watch over events.
Once everyone goes to bed, the scout elf flies back to the North Pole to report to Santa the activities, good and bad, that have taken place throughout the day.
Before the family wakes up each morning, the scout elf flies back from the North Pole and hides. By hiding in a new spot each morning around the house, the scout elf and the family play an on-going game of hide and seek.
The Elf on the Shelf explains that scout elves get their magic by being named.
In the back of each book, families have an opportunity to write their elf’s name and the date that they adopted it.
Once the elf is named, the scout elf receives its special Christmas magic, which allows it to fly to and from the North Pole.
The book tells how the magic might disappear if the scout elf is touched so the rule for The Elf on the Shelf states, ‘There’s only one rule that you have to follow, so I will come back and be here tomorrow: Please do not touch me. My magic might go, and Santa won’t hear all I’ve seen or I know’.
Although families are told not to touch their scout elf, they can speak to it and tell it all their Christmas wishes so that it can report back to Santa accurately.
The story ends on Christmas Day with the elf leaving to stay with Santa for the rest of the year until the following Christmas season.
The book has been a huge success, hitting the top spot on the USA Today bestsellers list and soon crossing the pond where it has proved a massive hit with British children and parents.
Part of the bonus for mum and dad is the fun you can have thinking of new and mischievous ways to hide the elf or how to arrange him with parents getting more and more creative each year and everyone from websites to newspapers offering advice.
Everything from positioning the elf so it looks like he’s had a night on the beers to hiding him in the washing machine is up for grabs with proud parents sharing their hiding places on social media.
But despite the spirit of fun, the whole concept of Elf on the Shelf has come in for some criticism from some quarters with one newspaper columnist calling it a ‘a marketing juggernaut dressed up as a tradition’.
Some parents have also raised their objections, labelling the elf as “creepy” and describing how children became scared of even going near it in case they ruined Christmas or were prevented from receiving presents.
Other adults have said the elf had virtually taken over Christmas as their little one became obsessed with it and they themselves felt under increasing pressure to come up with more and more ingenious ways to hide Santa’s little helper.
But for most of us it remains a bit of festive fun and a great way to bond with the kids over the advent period.
“Every year we continue to be amazed and blessed with the fan response, “Mrs Aebersold said in a statement put out after the book recently claimed the Number one spot on USA Today's best-seller list for the first time.
And the craze shows no signs of stopping with Mrs Aebersold’s company now offering games, a movie, elf couture, an elf registry online and elf adoptions in select locations around the US.
It looks like we’re going to be seeing a lot more of this cheeky elf whether we like it or not.
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