- Carolyn Cunningham For the AJC
In 2005, Carol Aebersold from Powder Springs, Georgia, and her daughters, Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts, self-published a book called "The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition," based on a family tradition that has now been adopted as a global Christmas custom by many more families.
How it works
The Elf on the Shelf is a modern cultural phenomenon where people adopt (buy) a Scout Elf at Adoption Centers (also known as retail centers) after being sent there from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his nice list.
When a family adopts a Scout Elf and gives it a name, the Scout Elf receives its Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus about all of the day's adventures.
Each morning, the Scout Elf returns to his/her family and perches in a different place to observe the children. Rules include making sure the children don't touch the elf, causing it to lose the "magic."
How to use
- Including them among the gifts in shoeboxes that are given to children in need around the world through Operation Christmas Child by Samaritan's Purse.
- Making snow angels with flour or sprinkles on the counter.
- Hiding them in your Christmas tree.
- Making snowmen out of marshmallows.
- Wearing an extra costume.
- Creating a scene with other dolls.
The basic set, which includes the book and doll, costs around $30. An online search will find the product at Amazon, Bed, Bath & Beyond, Buy Buy Baby, Kohls, JCPenney, Target, Toys "R" Us, Walmart and eBay. On Etsy, meanwhile, you'll find all kinds of handmade accessories and variations on the concept.
Bell recalled making a suggestion to her mother in 2004 "that we should write down the story of our family's tradition."
Even after they secured local watercolor artist Coe Stewart as the illustrator and a literary agent, their book was "turned down by every major - and minor - publisher we spoke to," Bell said. "Many publishers suggested that someone else should write the book, and another even noted that the book was 'destined for the damaged goods bin.'" So "without any business or manufacturing experience to rely on and not a single extra penny in the bank, it would be up to sheer determination and a lot of faith to launch what would become a national best-seller."
Through website sales, book signings and the help of stores, all 5,000 copies of "The Elf on the Shelf" sold by the end of the year. In late December 2007, the Today Show ran a segment on The Elf on the Shelf®, "changing the brand's trajectory forever."
Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Creatively Classic Activities and Books (CCA and B, LLC), is now home to The Elf on the Shelf, Claus Couture Collection, The Elf on the Shelf: A Birthday Tradition, various activity and coloring books, birthday party games and accessories and, most recently, Elf Pets®: A Reindeer Tradition. More than 11 million Scout Elves have been adopted since 2005, according to the North Pole press room.
In late 2011, the half-hour animated special, "An Elf's Story" - produced by another of their companies, Big Canoe Entertainment - was shown on CBS.
In 2012, The Elf on the Shelf joined the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City as the largest balloon to date and only the second self-published book character to be in the parade.
On social media, The Elf on the Shelf has more than 143,000 followers on Instagram; nearly 600,000 followers on Twitter and almost 803,000 followers on Facebook.