Back in 2005, Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell, from the US, published the first ever ‘The Elf on the Shelf’ book, having come up with the tradition at home.
They started selling the books from the backs of cars and reached out to family and friends they thought might want to adopt the tradition.
Eleven years later, it’s pretty hard to go on your Facebook timeline without seeing photos of the ‘Elf on the Shelf’, which is great for inspiration from other parents or hilarious NSFW ideas not suitable for kids’ eyes.
We caught up with Chanda Bell to find out how the tradition turned into the phenomenon it is today.
When did the idea of The Elf on the first come about?
We grew up with this tradition in our home. When we were children our Scout Elf, Fisbee, would come to our home and look over our family each year. I have such wonderful childhood memories with Fisbee.
I remember racing with my brother and sister to see who could find Fisbee first each morning, I would share secrets with him and let him know what I wanted for Christmas. It really was a holiday tradition that our family enjoyed doing together.
Later down the road (in 2004), after we were all grown up, I was having a cup of tea with my mum [Carol Aebersold], when the idea first came to us.
At the time, my mum had been feeling a little down and was going through some health issues. It was in that moment that it occurred to me: “Mum, why don’t we write the story of our family elf?”.
We thought this would not only be a fun project for us to work on together but also a wonderful opportunity to share this story and tradition with other families. So, she and I wrote ‘The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition’ (with Santa’s permission, of course).
After we wrote the story, my twin-sister (Christa Pitts) joined us and we set out on the venture to get it published.
We were turned down by every publishing house we approached, but we believed so strongly in this story that we decided to start our own publishing company.
My husband and I maxed out credit cards, my sister sold her house and my parents even tapped into their retirement savings – all so we could start our family-owned business. That’s when our publishing company, Creatively Classic Activities and Books (CCA & B) began.
Did you envision it being successful?
Well, we never expected it would turn into what it is today. We didn’t have any idea our story would ever become a “bestseller” and that millions of people across the globe would embrace this tradition the way that they have.
What we did know was how much this tradition meant to our family and we believed it would mean a lot to other families.
When we started hosting book signing events, attending trade shows and boutiques and small retailers started becoming Santa-approved Elf Adoption Centres, it slowly started to catch on.
Then in 2007, a picture was taken of Jennifer Garner walking down the street holding her own ‘The Elf on the Shelf’ box set. The photo went viral and soon everyone wanted to know more.
By 2008, we were in our first major retail store.
Has anything about ‘The Elf on the Shelf’ changed since the beginning?
The overall tradition has not changed but what has changed is how each family adopts their Scout Elf and makes the tradition into their own. Each Scout Elf takes on the personality of their family.
For example, some families are really silly and playful, so their Scout Elf gets into funnier situations around the house. While other families may be more relaxed and their Scout Elf is content keeping things simple, maybe perching on the mantle.
What was the main thing you wanted to achieve with ‘The Elf on the Shelf’?
We wanted to help create memorable family moments. We hoped to share something fun that families could do together. Being a mum, the biggest joy of the Christmas season is seeing it through your children’s eyes.
The look on their faces in the morning when they find their beloved Scout Elf is a memory that will last a lifetime. We want to share that with families around the world.
Why do you think the tradition became so popular globally?
Parents love seeing the excitement in their children’s eyes each morning as they search for their Scout Elf, while it adds to the excitement of the season for children. This is something that is not only fun for families to do together, but it’s a memory that mums and dads will cherish forever and something that kids will remember when they grow up.
It’s a holiday tradition that can be passed down through generations. The idea of sharing special family moments together is something that people all over the world want to experience.
What is some of the feedback you’ve had from parents?
Whenever I am on the road for media interviews or book signings, I get to meet so many people and hear these remarkable stories from families about how their Scout Elf has brought so much joy and fun to them.
Whether it is a parent sharing their child’s excitement or a child telling me about the silly antics their Scout Elf got into, it is always a pleasure to hear the joy one of Santa’s Scout Elves has brought.
What are some of the best creations you’ve seen?
There are so many fun and creative ideas that Scout Elves are coming up with. Since Scout Elves take on the personality of their family, and every family is different, I’m never ceased to be amazed.
I really enjoy seeing a Scout Elf and a family member share a special moment together such as a child leaving a note for their elf making a Christmas wish for someone else.