Who Invented Elf on the Shelf? How the Holiday Tradition Started

Each morning between Thanksgiving and Christmas, excited children look for where Elf on the Shelf is hiding. Who invented Elf on the Shelf anyway?

Danielle Letenyei - Author

Dec. 1 2021, Published 2:25 p.m. ET

Elf doll from Elf on the Shelf
Source: Lumistella Company

Every holiday season, right after Thanksgiving, a little elf appears in homes across the country. Each morning between Thanksgiving and Christmas, excited children look for where the elf is hiding. Who invented The Elf on the Shelf holiday tradition?

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The Elf of the Shelf started as a holiday tradition for one mother and her twin daughters. Carol Aebersold had an elf doll she would hide for her daughters Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts every morning.

elf on the shelf creators
Source: Getty Images
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“Mom said the elf was watching us and would tell Santa if we were naughty," Bell told CNNMoney in 2017.

It wasn’t until 2003, on a visit at her mother’s home, that Bell got the idea to share the Christmas elf story with others. Bell and Aebersold worked together to write The Elf on the Shelf. Pitts used her experience in sales and marketing to help with the endeavor.

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However, book publishers weren’t interested. With faith in their Elf on the Shelf idea, the ladies pooled their money and self-published the book in 2005. An elf doll that families “adopt” was included with each storybook.

"We published 5,000 copies and sold every one out of the trunk of our cars and at school fairs," Bell told CNNMoney. "We persevered because we knew we had something special."

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What's the Elf on the Shelf story?

The Elf on the Shelf is about a scout elf for Santa that hides in a home and reports what he sees to the big man himself. Each night, after everyone has gone to bed, the elf flies back to the North Pole to give Santa a report on the family that adopted him.

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When he gets back to his adoptive home, he hides in a different spot around the house. Some parents who’ve taken on the Elf on the Shelf tradition in their home give a gift to the child that finds the elf in the morning.

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There are some rules to owning an elf. For the elf’s magic to work, its adoptive family must give it a name.

"Our elf was named Fisbee, and Fisbee, of course, would report to Santa Claus at night and be back in a different position in our house the next day," Pitts told HuffPost.

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If a child finds the elf, they shouldn’t touch it, or else the elf’s magic may disappear. As the book puts it, “Please do not touch me. My magic might go, and Santa won't hear all I've seen, or I know."

Chanda Bell
Source: The Elf on the Shelf Facebook
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Elf on the Shelf creators built their net worth with the holiday tradition.

Elf on the Shelf has certainly helped its creators build their net worth. Once a simple holiday tradition for one family, Elf on the Shelf is now a multi-million dollar business venture.

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Since 2005, over 14.5 million elves have been adopted around the globe, CNBC reports. Elf on the Shelf kits, with storybook and doll, sell on Amazon for about $32.

Now, the holiday icon even has its own balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is a musical and animated holiday special.


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