What is Elf on the Shelf? All you need to know about the Christmas craze

Here’s what you need to know about the festive season’s new phenomenon...

Like most things that get big in America, the Elf on the Shelf was bound to cross to these shores eventually.

Now it’s available in the UK, the Elf on the Shelf is spreading like wildfire.

But if you’ve never heard of it, and are slightly bemused by the concept of another ‘new Christmas tradition’ (surely a contradiction in terms?), let us enlighten you:

The background

In 2004, over a cuppa, Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell sat down to write a book about an elf sent by Santa to watch over them at Christmas time.

Written in rhyme, the book was originally self-published in 2005, and comes in a keepsake box with a scout elf toy. Fast-forward 10 years and it’s a social media dream – with Pinterest and Facebook awash with competing snaps of what the elf’s been up to.

With a felt body and a plastic head, the toy’s got an androgynous face with a cheeky sideways glance. You buy it from an ‘adoption centre’- aka a shop - and there’s also a range of clothes too, because, let’s not forget, spending money is what Christmas is all about...

[Read more: Is your Christmas tree making you ill?]

What is the Elf on the Shelf?

The child-friendly answer: meet your friendly scout elf who Santa sent from the North Pole to check whether children are being naughty or nice in the run-up to Christmas. When adopted – and named – by a family, it gets its special Christmas magic and can fly back to Santa each night to tell him about its day.

Every morning, it returns home to perch on a new spot in the house, and delight little ones who rush around looking for it. On Christmas Eve it returns to the North Pole.

The version for grown-ups: the above is the marketing blurb, but, if you’ve ever watched any horror films about dolls coming to life, this is one ‘tradition’ you might find a little creepy.

You’ll either love it or want to keep it in its box at the bottom of the wardrobe. Worth noting too is that there have been various critiques of this ‘juggernaut’ including that it encourages children to accept the surveillance state. One psychologist calls it a ‘dangerous parental crutch’.

The Elf on the Shelf rules

According to the official website, there are two simple rules:

1. “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.”

2. “A scout elf cannot speak or move while anyone in the house is awake! A scout elf's job is to watch and listen.”

How time-consuming is Elf on the Shelf?

As one American mum recently confessed on social media, it’s one for seriously dedicated families only.

“Once you commit to doing Elf on the Shelf, you are IN. You are IN for YEARS and YEARS of coming up with new ways to delight your kids every morning for a MONTH leading up to Christmas,” wrote ‘Dynamom’.

“You want me tip-toeing around the kid’s bathroom, sprinkling cheddar Goldfish into the toilet while perching a doll atop the tank and affixing a miniature candy cane ‘fishing pole’ to his hands? And then coming up with a new idea for the next night, and the next, and the next, and then again next year? I can’t. No.”

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