For families with children, the Christmas season is about teaching children the importance kindness and that kindness brings them greatness in return. Sometimes children need to be reminded, and the power of belief helps to fuel that essence of being reminded of kindness.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Christmas shelf elves were a popular holiday decoration. Since the late 1950s and early 1960s these shelf elves were manufactured in Japan. These shelf elves are also called "knee-huggers."
But the shelf elf has had a recent surge in popularity.
“The Elf on the Shelf”?is a book by Carol Aebersold and Chanda Bell that has become a fun family tradition. The book comes with an elf toy that is supposed to monitor a child’s behavior and report back to Santa Claus each night.
In 2005, Carol Aebersold and her daughter Chanda Bell of Atlanta published the book "Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Tradition." Aebersold and Bell's inspiration for the "Elf on the Shelf" story harkens back to when Aebersold would dress her twin daughters' elf while they were asleep on Christmas Eve.
In the book, Santa Claus sends an elf out to a child to watch and report on kids' behavior during the days prior to Christmas Day. When the elf arrives at the family's house, the family has to give the elf a name. Then each night, while the child is sleeping, the elf will fly to the North Pole and report to Santa Claus whether the child was bad or good. Then the elf is back at the family's house in a new spot watching over the child. The child must find the elf in the new spot. The tradition has a rule that you cannot touch the elf, because touching the elf will make the elf's magic go away and therefore the elf will be unable to report to Santa Claus.
The book also had a 2011 animated special, "The Elf On The Shelf: An Elf's Story." The book is packaged with a shelf elf.
Bell has fond memories of the "Elf on the Shelf" tradition from her childhood.
"Santa sent the family's scout elf from the North Pole," she said. "My mom had a scout elf growing up and continued the tradition with our family. My most vivid memory is talking to our scout elf and telling him what I wanted for Christmas. I also remember waking up and racing my sister and brother out of bed to find our elf first. It was such a fun competition."
Aebersold and Bell decided to write the book based on their family tradition.
"My mom had empty nest syndrome, so I suggested it as something fun for us to do together," Bell said. "As I got older, I realized how much this tradition meant to our family and how much it could mean to others. I thought 'what a great story to share with our family and friends!' I didn't exactly think it would turn out to be what it is today."
Bell said that the "Elf on the Shelf" is a great reminder for children during the Christmas season.
"There are millions of ways to get children to behave, but with the reminder of 'the elf is watching you,' children control their own behavior without parents having to moderate for them," Bell said. "There are few traditions in which the entire family can participate. With the 'Elf on the Shelf,' there is interaction between mom and dad, and children. It's just simple fun."
Kate Atsas of Boardman has done the "Elf on the Shelf" tradition for her children for a year. Atsas said she loves the tradition because it balances tradition with fun and creativity, since parents use their imaginations to hide the elf.
"It's amazing all the creative things you can do with the 'Elf on the Shelf,' and you can always make it a fun tradition for your kids," Atsas said. "Last year, we had a Buzz Lightyear trying to save the elf from a pit of marshmallows from the evil emperor. We were going to Disney On Ice last year, and we had the elf in the mailbox delivering our tickets. One of the things you can do with the elf is to get some sugar and have the elf make snow angels in the sugar. This past November, when we had our big snow, we were teaching our son how to do snow angels in the snow."
Atsas said that the "Elf on the Shelf" tradition is an added bonus to Christmas.
"Christmas in our family has been important and this tradition has brought the magic of Christmas into our house," she said. "The book helps explain the story behind the elf. As a mother, it's a way for me to make the Christmas season fun for my children. I think the tradition promotes better behavior and for my son, it really helps. Last year, he touched the elf, so we just took it away for the day. As long as he was behaving, we brought the elf back."
Todd Fowler and his wife, Mary Hall of Greenford said their children enjoy the "Elf on the Shelf" tradition. Fowler said that his wife discovered "Elf on the Shelf" through her coworkers during pre-parenthood. Since then, Fowler and Hall thought the idea was a great Christmas tradition.
"Our kids are excited when our elf arrives," Fowler said. "My daughter named him Snowball. It does seem to give kids a visual reminder that Santa is watching and they should try to improve their behavior. Traditions should be goofy, if they are going to work. Having a toy elf that reports to Santa Claus moving around your house and surprising kids every morning is goofy enough."
Bill Stone of Cleveland said he and his wife have done the "Elf on the Shelf" tradition at their house for two years for their daughter. Stone said that his wife is a fifth grade teacher, and she heard about the "Elf on the Shelf" from students.
"My daughter loves it," Stone said. "She talks about it all year. She named it Frosty. Apparently Frosty is a girl, but they all look the same. We don't want to go too crazy with the whole 'she's watching,' but we mention it a couple times during the year. It works great at Christmas with 'what would Frosty say?' We hide it all over and it gives her notes and other little things throughout the month of December. The places the elf hides include: hanging from the ceiling fan, placed in a plant, in a pancake box, and peeking out of a guitar case. We make it a bit challenging to find."
But the tradition isn't without its challenges for parents as well.
"Sometimes we forget to re-hide it the night before, and have to hide it while she's looking for it, which is very difficult to say the least," Stone said.