The Elf on the Shelf® is a children’s book company located in Atlanta, Georgia. It is owned and operated by Chanda B. Bell along with her sister Christa Pitts, (a former QVC host) and their mother Carol V. Aebersold.
The company is based on a poem written by Bell’s mother about a little elf doll (a pixie scout) who was recruited by Santa Claus to provide naughty and nice reports to the North Pole. At night, the elf flew back to the North Pole to report to Santa. The next morning the elf returned to its post to continue to spy on the children of his assigned home. The elf changes his location throughout the house each day. On Christmas Eve, the elf returns to the North Pole.
“We grew up talking to the elf and telling him what we wanted for Christmas. He always came on Thanksgiving Day and there was so much excitement about whether he was going to come while we were eating turkey or before we went to bed.” – Chanda Bell in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Thinking the story of the little elf would make a nice children’s book, Chanda Bell got an agent who pitched the story to numerous publishers but no one wanted the book. So she self-published the book in 2005 and sold it at trade shows – selling out at every venue. Illustrated by Coë Steinwart, the $29.99 Christmas book has sold more than four million copies around the world.
“There are two simple rules that every child knows when it comes to having a scout elf. First, a scout elf cannot be touched; Christmas magic is very fragile and if a scout elf is touched it may lose that magic and be unable to fly back to the North Pole. Second, a scout elf cannot speak or move while anyone in the house is awake! A scout elf’s job is to watch and listen.”
In 2008, The Elf on the Shelf won the Best Toy Award by Learning Express; Book of the Year Award from Creative Child Awards; and the National Best Books 2008 Award sponsored by USA Book News.
On 26 November 2011, the book aired on CBS as a 30-minute animated TV show, An Elf’s Story: The Elf on the Shelf®, directed by Chad Eikhoff. At the North Pole, an eager pixie scout (voiced by Brendan Dooling) receives his first assignment, but Santa Claus warns him that it’s a doozy: At the suburban McTuttle house, it seems Taylor McTuttle is on the threshold of “not believing” (in Santa).
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. The following year, The Elf on the Shelf hit the #1 spot on the USA Today Bestsellers List.
The Elf on the Shelf®: A Birthday Tradition was released in October 2013. 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.
While popular with many, the idea of an elf conducting unwarranted surveillance in your home during Christmastime freaks out some who consider the story a terrifying holiday tale for kids.
Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak wrote a story called: “The Elf on the Shelf®: It must be stopped!” Her main complaint being, “In the simple story that comes with the Elf, he’s gotta move every night. That means parents who forget to do it before going to bed wake up in the middle of the night, realizing they didn’t move the bleeping Elf. Because if that Elf hasn’t moved in the morning, there’s hell to pay with the little ones. The jig is up.”
“Every year at Christmas, Santa sends his elves to WATCH you. And they go back and tell him who’s been bad and who’s been good. The Elf on the Shelf is WATCHING you, what you say and what you do. The Elf on the Shelf is WATCHING you, EACH and EVERY Christmas.” – Amazon.com
The Atlantic Monthly ran a story entitled: “You’re a Creepy One, Elf on the Shelf” saying, “By far the worst thing about the Elf, though, is its message, its story, its raison d’etre: to spy on kids. ‘I watch and report on all that you do!’ he warns in the book, later adding that ‘the word will get out if you broke a rule.’ The Elf solicits the child’s Christmas wishes—for gifts, not for peace on earth or a cure for cancer—and tells them to Santa. Then, after a month of observing the child’s behavior from his hiding place, the Elf tells Santa whether she’s on the Nice list, or the Naughty one.”
Mary Elizabeth Williams as staff writer for the online magazine Salon.com authored an article titled: “Santa’s Evil Orwellian Spy – The Elf on the Shelf® is a nightmarish voyeur. It’s time to end this insidious ‘Christmas tradition.” She reported. “…he’s an Orwellian nightmare. Let’s teach our children that privacy is meaningless! I may have grown up with a Santa who sees you when you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake, but my Santa was never lurking around in my house, keeping tabs on me for weeks at a time. I don’t know, I just find the whole concept of an advent-long period of intense scrutiny by some judgmental little voyeur in a pointy hat creepy.”
“My five-year-old has been asking for an elf for two Christmases now. My official stance is, ‘We’re not inviting one of those tattle tales into our house. Besides, Santa can already see what you’re doing.’ I’ll tell you this much, if I have to cave to the pressure of our Elf on the Shelf society and spend $30 for the honor of moving a damn stuffed toy around every night, I’m going to be so pissed at you guys.” – “Why I hate The Elf on the Shelf®” blog comment
Even folks in academia were fed up with The Elf on the Shelf®. David Kyle Johnson, a Ph.D wrote his concerns in Psychology Today, “Let’s Bench the Elf on the Shelf: Is the Elf on The Shelf a dangerous parental crutch?. He explained, “I have argued against the Santa Claus lie – the practice of tricking your children into believing that Santa Claus is literally real – elsewhere. My argument is threefold. It’s a lie, it threatens your parental trustworthiness, and it encourages credulity. But The Elf on the Shelf® is basically a steroid shot for the Santa Lie—a physical reminder of the Santa lie in your house for a whole month. So it should not be surprising that my objections to the practices surrounding The Elf on the Shelf are similar.
Finally, Kim Z. Dale penned an article for Chicago Now entitled “The Elf on the Shelf® revealed to be part of secret NSA spying program,” She suggested, “The best way to avoid being monitored is to boycott the Elf on the Shelf product. If, however, you already have an Elf on the Shelf in your home you can wrap it in aluminum foil to prevent it from transmitting data to SANTA.”
The backlash against The Elf on the Shelf® have inspired those on the hate side of the issue to create some very funny and often naughty images of the Elf on the Shelf while he is in your house. Here is just a list of things he as been caught doing while the children are sleeping:
- Peeing in a martini glass
- Sleeping with a Barbie Doll
- Crapping Hershey kisses
- Eating reindeer meat
- Watching a pole dancer strip
- Drawing on the faces of sleeping people
- Buying illegal drugs
- Watching Internet porn
- Throwing up in a toilet
- Humping another elf
- Smoking and Drinking whiskey
- Snorting cocaine
- Torturing an elf with fire
- Doing naughty things to a candy cane
- Taking bribes for good reports
Is there an alternative to The Elf on the Shelf®? Well, one article on The Imagination Tree website suggested “Kindness Elves: An alternative Elf on the Shelf Tradition” Instead of having the children worrying about whether they will get presents based on the reports of an elf spy, the folks at the Imagination Tree think that children should take on task of kindness instead, like baking cookies for a neighbor, give some toys to the children’s hospital, visit and elderly friend or make a Christmas meal for someone.
NOTE: In 2020, The Elf on the Shelf Company changed its name to Lumistella.
The Elf on the Shelf®
3350 Riverwood Parkway, Ste 300
Atlanta, GA 30339
Elf on the Shelf (Facebook)
Huffington Post (Article)
The Atlantic (Article)
Psychology Today (Article)
Chicago Now (Article)
The Imagination Tree (Article)