12 Days of Christmas: What is an Elf on the Shelf?

Everyone seems to be all a buzz with the elf on the shelf game. Wondering what is an Elf on the Shelf? Here’s what the Elf on the Shelf games are and some Elf on the Shelf ideas to inspire you.

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Elf on the Shelf Story

The Elf on the Shelf is a story written by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell. It’s the little elf that keeps an eye on everyone in the house, and flies back to the North Pole every night to tell Santa who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. Traditionally, the Elf moves around the home every day from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve and then returns every year.

Every Elf on the Shelf is sold in a keepsake box with the storybook.

Elf on the Shelf Ideas

10 Creative Elf on the Shelf Placements

Make your own with this hand made elf on the shelf tutorial.

the adventures of feagle day 23
Photo courtesy of Beatrice.killam on Flickr.

Elf on the Shelf Group Photos on Flickr

My own thoughts on the new Elf on the Shelf Tradition…

Looking at it objectively it is obviously another marketing ploy to make more money on a product “tradition” for families to have every holiday season. It shows how we are over-commercialized and companies continuously market to children.

Looking at it personally, I don’t like lying to my children and saying that a make believe character is real. My children are aware of who Santa is, but I have never pretended that Santa is real or brings them gifts. He’s another fun make-believe character, just like Lightning McQueen or Cinderella.

With all that being said, I think the Elf on the Shelf idea is very cute and can be a lot of fun without any lying to my children. If it wasn’t for the inflated price, I might actually consider buying it just for fun. So I may need to break out the sewing machine and follow the above tutorial to make my own.

How do you feel about the Elf on the Shelf?  These are just my personal thoughts, and I do not judge anyone for the decisions they make.  I welcome all viewpoints and beliefs here to my blog, but please do keep the conversation respectful.

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    • No, its not new.. it has been around since I was a kid.. and that was over 30 years ago.. LOL.. anyways.. I just got rid of two of them I have had since I was about 3 years old.. my parents started putting them on the tree when we grew old enough to know that they werent really moving around the house by themselves.. I was always creeped out by them.. I know when I was little I was terrified of them.. they could be why I dont like clowns now.. LOL

  1. I’m not so sure I understand it fully. There’s a lot of talk about it though! I first heard about it last Christmas.

    • me too I heard about it last year and still don’t get it…. Every time I ask about it no one is clear about it

      Very frustrating

  2. Just another way to get people to commercialize the holiday and spend more money.

    • Why do people feel the need to grouse that anything fun relating to Christmas is “just more commercialism”? You don’t have to buy anything to start this tradition-you could have some other kind of action figure or dolly be the elf. It sounds like a fun tradition to extend the excitement of finding something unexpected on Christmas morning.

  3. I think it’s adorable. We are on our second year of our new elf tradition. I just wish the greedy stores wouldn’t advertise it and put it out for all the kids to see!

  4. I’m against bribing (or scaring) my kids into behaving this time of the year just to get more gifts. But we also don’t do the ‘Santa’ thing so I guess that’s to be expected!

    • I get you. I’m a Christian and I personally believe that it takes away from the real reason for the season, which is Jesus Christ birth. Why add more traditions. His birth should be enough to talk about.

  5. We love our Elf, Buddy! But we have had it for 4 year now! I don’t like that all the big name retail stores are now carrying it! It’s really hard to explain to my children why Buddy is in all the stores….Hee,Hee! My little boy can’t wait to find him and see what he’s left as soon as he wakes up!!

  6. I love keeping magic in the family. Thankfully, my children are well behaved and I’ve never had to “bribe” them with Santa. We just like the innocence of children believing in the kindness and goodness of the whole season. I love the elf and Santa.

  7. I told my kids the elf had sen them arguing and had to cover his eyes because he was in shock Lol the look on their faces was priceless

  8. I think the elf itself is pretty creepy. I had my sister crochet us one, then made a photo book of our own family values.

  9. for whatever it’s worth:

    Santa is not real, but we celebrate the feast of St Nicholas each year on Dec 6 and learn about who the real Santa Claus (saintNi cholas) was. We make stockings each year on the fifth and leave them out and then I fill them — the kids know it — for the 6th.

  10. We just got ours this year and my 4 year old loves it. He gets up every morning to see where his elf, Nick, landed when he came back from the North Pole each night. Everywhere I looked was sold out except Barnes and Noble. The website has more information and background on the whole thing and there is a FB page too.

  11. I think the idea behind this is incredibly cute. . . however, there is no way on earth that I have time to keep up with it (we’re doing good just to remember the tooth fairy around here!) I have a friend who has older children, and the older kids play “elf” to the younger ones, which maybe would work? But in all honesty, I’d love for Christmas to revolve around something more important than an elf. (So, despite my children’s begging because ALL of their friends have one, we’ve said no so far.)

    It was tempting though when we were at Hallmark the other night though because they’re pretty cute!

  12. I agree almost word for word on your objective & personal views of Elf on a Shelf. I do, however, like the “tradition” part of it and the idea it gives the child something to look forward to everyday (we already do an Advent calendar, but this is something different). That being said, I just can’t seem to bring myself to take it out the last two years because of how I feel about it. It was given to us as a gift. I need to come up with a way to make it work for us. I need to figure out alterations on the theme of “naughty & nice” judgements being the determining factor in “gifts” and all that goes along with it.

  13. My husband and I have more fun with it than the girls…our neighbors have their own Elf…used a toy she already had. $30.00 is too much!

  14. I’m not really an elf fan. Although Santa is talked about in our house, I try to downplay that aspect of the holiday. I don’t want to invest (and I’m not just talking $) in reinforcing it.

  15. This is our first year of doing Elf on the Shelf and my kids are loving it. It has, in fact, been a very long time tradition and they used to be handmade elves. Have they commercialized it a bit to make money? Of course, that’s what companies do.

    However, I think it is a fun, cute tradition that just adds to the “magic” of the holidays. We celebrate the real and true season of Christmas by talking about the birth of Christ and what it means. We do a 25 days of Christmas where we do things like making cookies and making snow flakes. We do random acts of kindness for strangers. We spend lots of time with family.

    I think the point is making sure there is a balance. My kids know why we celebrate the Christmas and the real spirit of the season. I don’t think it’s all that bad that we add a little fun.

  16. we love ours!! it totally keeps my boys in line to think the elf is reporting back to santa every night..

  17. i don’t understand why it’s suddenly the new thing this year. my aunt has had the same exact elf(looks identical) since me and my cousins were little..so close to 30 years!

  18. not a huge fan. I want my kids to treat others well and do the right thing b/c it’s the right thing, not b/c an elf is watching them. But, to each his own!

  19. I just got one for my daughters first grade classroom(she’s the teacher). At that age the kiddies love it.

  20. I think it is someone’s genius idea to get people to spend more money! Santa just knows if you’re naughty or nice.. I don’t need to buy an elf to tell him.. 😉

  21. My MIL bought it for my 3yr and 1yr old. My 3yr loves it. I am not happy about because I want them to believe in the unknown. The magic they can’t see. Not a little elf. I always did for the kids I watched Elf letters. Every once in a while they would receive an elf letter throughout the year, no threats or bribes just acknowledging them for the nice they did for their family or others. I also support my daughters fear/weariness of sitting on a strange old mans lap. If something in her mind or body is telling her it is a bad idea to sit on a strange mans lap I am not going to take that fear away. The elf is causing her to trust in that instead of trusting and believing in the magic in herself.

  22. I love mine because I got it last year after Christmas for only 6 dollars. I don’t care for the old fashioned doll much but we use it. They do sell cuter plush ones.

  23. Crystal, I agree with you on the Santa thing. We don’t make a big deal out of Santa (we have friends who are ANTI Santa), but my kids know that it’s just pretend. We want our children to trust what we tell them, and it just seemed like telling them that Santa is real and lives in the north pole and brings children all over the world presents each year was counterproductive to that goal.

    Not surprising that we agree… again. :)

  24. I find it hilarious that people are willing to pay $30 for each of these. I have a set of 12 that was given to my mother when I was born– so they are antiques too–lol, jk, I’m only 42. I would love to make some extra cash if someone wants to pay me $30 each for them. We never had our elf/elves on the shelf, we hung our elves on the tree. In all seriousness though, I wouldn’t sell them because it’s a tradition to have them on our tree now.

  25. I’m a little disturbed that St. Nicholas has been grouped in with Lightning McQueen and Cinderella!
    Teaching my children about the real spirit (and meaning) of Christmas is much more interesting than getting into gimmicky Elves. If you want something to do each day leading up to Christmas, how about an advent calendar?!

  26. Wow. Amazing. To me, Christmas is, at its heart, such a simple holiday- celebrating the birth of a savior. All this other stuff , and there is more every year, just makes it so complicated. I think the nativity story itself *is* magical, miraculous, and wondrous enough, and we don’t need to create characters to make it moreso.

  27. My question is what is the point of it? From what I gather, I get that people like this type of thing,but I think it teaches kids how to be consumers by modifying their behaviors. Also, it helps them learn how to fear a phantom old guy who brings presents only if they are good (completely antithetical to the gospel) and how to be obedient when it’s convenient for them.

    • …As opposed to fearing an old guy in the sky so they behave and attain eternal life? Lighten up.

  28. I agree. AND, I’m a little confused why this little elf is considered “new”?? I remember going over to my grandma’s house growing up & she had several of these from the 60’s. Or 50’s. Who knows, really… her house was like a time capsule.

  29. We have one that we got as a gift a couple years ago after my son was born. This is the first year that he has gotten it. I really like the book that it comes with and the elf is just another way to get the kids excited about Christmas.

  30. Santa visits at St. Nicholas day to de-emphasize his importance and role modern society has placed on him with Christmas, so I am not sure the tradition is one we would want to incorporate, since it would counter our intent. While we want some magic of Santa, so we haven’t eliminated him completely, we just separate his giving from the religious holiday of Christmas. Right now our daughter is 4 and as she gets older, we will spend more teaching her about the real saint and more about why he doesn’t visit at Christmas like other children’s homes.
    I agree, we want to teach cheerful obedience without bribery.

  31. I don’t know… I grew up with Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and the whole bit, and I don’t think I suffered any lasting, soul-crushing damage when the truth gradually revealed itself. Besides – we live in a world full of magic today… images shot thru space into boxes on hung on our walls that tell us stories, conversations with people a world or a street away on blocks the size of a deck of cards, letters written in a flash between strangers on fantastic portable devices (blogging, anyone)? Absolute reality today, yet how many short generations ago would these things have been considered ridiculousness, madness even? Now, I’m not sitting here saying all the legendary figures are real (come on), but kids think differently than adults. In their minds, they are in this special time when the improbable might just be possible. That’s what they can learn from this belief in magic. Not betrayal. Possibility. Just Maybe…. So for now, my $5, bought at a bazaar shelf elf shuffles around the house, not really doing a whole lot, but checking out our Christmas kindness and spirit, delivering pjs to my kids at their grandma’s house on Christmas Eve, and sitting out with the milk and cookies to hitch a ride back to the North Pole. Because when their belief in this silly magic fades, I still want them to think, in the back of their minds, that the possibility of other “magic” is still out there. ~Signing off from my improbable laptop…. A.

  32. I think it is a lot of fun! Yes, it is $30, but comes with a hard cover book. It is all in good fun. I think people against it need to lighten up. If they came up with the idea, I’d like to know what they would think of it THEN. Jealous is what I think.

  33. Not trying to be ugly. . . but my thoughts are my kids are well behaved wonderful children of God. They believe in Christ and the meaning of Christmas and Easter. And yet somehow we are still able to bring the characters of “Santa and the Easter bunny” into their lives and it not be against what we believe or whatever. The spirit of Santa is to give to others and do it without anyone knowing who Santa is. We take our kiddos for pics and stuff with Santa and we make him cookies. And they even get a couple gifts from him. However, are girls are also thought the spirit of Christ and one in my opinion that relates to Santa. That we are to love others and share our blessings with others. My kids bake for our neighbors throughout the year and we deliver them and spend time with them. I think the elf on the shelf is an adorable idea and I was just bummed that there are so many so quick to judge something meant for fun. I was excited just thinking about all the cool places the kids could find him. Merry Christmas in October!

  34. This is not a new thing it is just being made popular again. My Grandma did it for my mom and her sisters. I made ours, really simply all I bought was the head for .99 cents. I don’t understand what the big deal is it is meant to be fun for the kids….It is Christmas.

  35. Pretty much what it does is make your children behave because they think one of Santa’s elves is making sure they are being nice and that they deserve to get a present under the tree. I have one and its has worked wonders for my girls. Wow and your child doesn’t believe in Santa? I really hope your mother didn’t do that to you also….kind of sad :-(

  36. Really, how can it be bad letting children believe in the magic of Santa before they reach the stage in life where magic is gone? Let kids be kids and let them suspend disbelief while they are young and innocent. I don’t know anyone who was traumatized by the “lies.” Some people really need to get a grip.

  37. So let me get this straight, all it is is a toy elf that the parents move around from room to room every day and the kids think that the elf is supposedly going to tell santa if they are bad or good!!!!!

    If that’s all it is why the he** couldn’t people just explain it that way when I friggin ask what the hell it does!!!!!!!!!!


  38. I was raised “playing Santa”, but my parents always felt it was important to know the truth. They are pretty religious and they didn’t want us finding out they had lied about Santa causing questions about God. We still pretended and had a blast with it and I personally feel absolutely no trauma from it. I have a 16 year old that I also told, and a 3 year old I thought about letting believe. I asked the 16 year old what he thought, curious if it had bothered him, and he said that he didn’t think it was right to set her up with a lie.
    The only downfall I ever saw in telling kids right off the bat about Santa being a story is that they generally not good at keeping the information a secret. I remember my brother telling a bus load of kids that Santa wasn’t real, and that did not go over very well as you can imagine.
    All this said, I am not opposed to people telling their kids there is a Santa. The beauty of life is that there is usually not one correct choice when it comes to decisions like these. This is just one choice in life that we make among thousands. :)

  39. I don’t understand why children wouldn’t be allowed believe in a little magic – they are little for such a short time. Its a bit of fun. Our Elf or Santa fir that matter has no influence on their behaviour. Thats our job as parents. He just plays hide and seek every morning and gets up to mischief. He also brought advent candles one morning and set up a wreath.

  40. Santa is a mythical , Magical, Jolly, giving man who brings laughter, happiness, & Joy to all who Believe in Him! Santa is alive in our Heart! I am 66 yrs old & I will Always Believe in Santa! He will remain in my Heart Forever! As far as the Little Elf on the Shelf, I think he is Absolutely Adorable, a Magical little Guy who helps Santa! Do you believe in Heaven ? God ? Angels ? I certainly do! Merry CHristmas Everyone! Keep the Joy & Happiness of the Birth of Jesus in your Heart,

  41. Reading all these comments people leave about lying to their children and that they wouldn’t trust you when they grow up makes me laugh. I grew up ad a child knowin Santa was real. my mom would tag our gift as “from Santa” once I hit a certain age I realized that what my parents were doing, was making loving and adorable memories for us kids to remember. they made it the best they could. now I’m grown and miss those days so much. this is one of those memorable small harmless things that is absolutely adorable.

  42. I’m so sorry that you think Santa is make believe. You have lost all of the magic of Christmas and have gone so far as to take it from your children as well. I don’t lie to my child either, I know Santa is real. It’s just too sad that not only have you taken Santa out of your own heart but you have taken this from your child as well. I feel sorry for both you and your children.

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